Tag Archives: Compassion

Safety in friendship

With Australia’s National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence occurring  this Friday 17 March and Harmony Day next Tuesday 21 March, it is timely to consider what we can do to ensure our schools and communities are safe places; places where everyone is included, diversity is appreciated, and others are treated with compassion and respect.

I recently wrote about the importance of teaching children strategies for making friends and getting along with others.  As for children in any class, these strategies would be very useful for Marnie and others in her class. Marnie, a girl who is abused at home and bullied at school, is a character I have been developing intermittently over the past few years in response to Charli’s flash fiction challenges at the Carrot Ranch. I haven’t written about her recently as the gaps widened and the inconsistencies grew and I felt I needed to give her more attention than time allowed.

You may wonder how I got here from the current flash fiction prompt by Charli Mills to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a honeymoon story. But my mind will wander.

Sometimes, when children are having difficulty settling in and making friends at school, are being bullied, or are bullying, it is easier to point the finger, allocate blame, and attempt to place the responsibility for a solution on others. Firstly, I think we, as a society, need to realise that we share responsibility. Secondly, we need to be the type of person we want others to be: compassionate, kind, accepting, welcoming, respectful. Thirdly, we need to teach the attitudes and behaviours we wish to encourage and make it very clear what is and is not acceptable; including “Bullying.No Way!”

We are not always aware of the circumstances in which children are living or the situations to which they are exposed which may impact upon their ability to learn or to fit in. I wondered why Marnie might be abused at home. Although I knew her parents were abusive, I hadn’t before considered why they might be so. Charli’s honeymoon prompt led me to thinking about young teenage parents, who “had” to get married and take on the responsibility of caring for a child when they were hardly more than children themselves. I thought about broken dreams, lost opportunities, and definitely no honeymoon. Such was life for many in years not long ago.

Blaming is easy. Mending is more difficult. Safety and respect are essential. I’d love to know what you think.

Honeymoon dreams

Marnie sat on the bed, legs drawn up, chin pressed into her knees, hands over her ears. “Stop it! Stop it!” she screamed inside. Why was it always like this? Why couldn’t they just get over it? Or leave? She’d leave; if only she had somewhere to go. She quivered as the familiar scenario played out. Hurts and accusations unleashed: “Fault”. “Tricked”. “Honeymoon”. “Bastard”. Marnie knew: she was their bastard problem. He’d storm out. She’d sob into her wine on the couch. Quiet would reign, but briefly.  Marnie knew he’d be into her later, and she? She’d do nothing.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Remember to catch up with Karen Tyrrell who writes about empowerment in my interview on the readilearn blog this Friday.

The Principal’s Office

Principal's office

The thought of being sent to the Principal’s Office is notoriously fear-inducing with the implication that some misdemeanour has occurred and that punishment will follow. Of course, I know this only from the stories of others. It’s true: I have no recollection of ever having been sent to the Principal’s Office during my school days. In fact, I have no recollection of there being a Principal’s Office at all, or indeed who that principal might have been. Perhaps there are some serious omissions in my memory files.

In a previous post, I introduced you to Robert Hoge and his memoir Ugly through a lying incident he relates. Robert also shares recollections of being sent to the offices of a deputy principal and a principal while he was at school. Both incidents are also included in the version for Younger Readers.

Ugly coverUgly for kids.PNG

Robert recalls that,

Most of the school lived in a vague, unspecified fear of Mr Fuller (the deputy principal). He was the perfect second-in-command. He delivered the bad news when needed and administered a strict, no-nonsense form of discipline that mainly worked by keeping students so in fear of the threat of getting in trouble, they behaved.

One day when Robert was summoned to Mr Fuller’s office he was informed that some teasing had been occurring. As he was usually the one being teased, Robert was relieved that he wasn’t getting into trouble. Instead of informing on others who had teased him, Robert said,

“Well, sir, it wasn’t anything really. Nothing that got me very upset anyway.”

Sadly, though, it was Robert’s turn to be reprimanded for being the teaser. The children who were so good at teasing him, weren’t so good at taking a little teasing in return, and had made a complaint.

Robert confesses surprise at how much the other child had been upset because he (Robert) “was teased so often … (that he) … became better and better at dealing with it” as he got older. However, it wasn’t just the children who were cruel and sometimes, when adults were cruel, he found it more difficult to take.

Robert describes an incident that occurred in year ten when he and another student elected to do a week’s work experience as teachers at a local primary school. He was allocated to a year seven class and the other student to a year two class. Robert enjoyed the week and was pleased that his appearance drew few comments from the students.

On Friday afternoon Robert was summoned to the principal’s office. Waiting outside, expecting perhaps to get a ‘thank you’ from the principal, he was surprised when the other student wasn’t also there. What happened when he was called into the office is astonishing.

Without so much as a greeting, Robert was chastised for the school’s not having being warned before he arrived. Warned about what, Robert wasn’t sure. When he enquired, the principal quickly informed him, that she should have been warned about him; that when he’d arrived on Monday they’d had to swap the classes to which he and the other student were assigned. Robert was initially confused as to the reason, then he realised that she was talking about his appearance, that perhaps the year two students would not be able to cope as well as the year sevens.

Robert was upset. He didn’t know what to say and started to cry. When he said, “I’m sorry”, the principal responded with “Good” and showed him the door. Of course, Robert was distraught. He writes,

It wasn’t the last time I cried about the way I looked, but it was the very last time I apologised to anyone else for it.

Each of these incidents occurred in a Catholic school. Anne Goodwin who blogs at Annecdotal recently shared a guest post here about the legacy of a Catholic childhood. I was also educated at Catholic schools. While most of my teaching service occurred in the state system, I did teach for a few years in Catholic schools. I saw and experienced many instances of adults being mean to children. I also saw many instances of kindness.

For my flash fiction response to this week’s challenge set by Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Communications to In 99 words (no more, no less) write an office story, I have decided to write an alternative encounter for Robert with a more principled  and compassionate principal. I’d love to know what you think.

movie board

The Principal’s Office, Take Two

“Ah, Robert, come in,” she said, extending her hand and shaking mine as if I was an adult rather than a work experience student. As she returned to her desk, she indicated for me to also sit. I was puzzled. I knew I’d done a good job in the classroom. Why would the principal want to see me?  I waited. She looked at me quizzically. “Robert, I’ve heard a great deal about you this week …”  I squirmed. “… and all of it positive.” She smiled. “I’d like to suggest, if you’re still undecided, that you consider teaching as a career …”

48

Although Robert didn’t choose a career in teaching, he has powerful lessons for us through sharing his story.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

What the world needs now

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about needs. She questions why necessities sometimes feel like luxuries and why basic necessities, such as drinking water and access to a bathroom, incur a fee. While she is temporarily homeless, she is seeing first hand some of the ongoing difficulties of others faced with long-term homelessness. Surely to be treated with some compassion and afforded the dignity of respect is equally a basic human need and a right.

what do living things need

Young children begin to learn about needs when they start caring for plants and animals. In science they learn about the needs of living things and how those needs are met. It is not long before they start to learn about the differences between a need and a want. This understanding, and acceptance, can take a long time to develop. Some never develop it.

need want

Perhaps if there was a greater understanding of the difference between a need and a want, the gap between those who have much and those who have little would decrease. But perhaps not. While there is little increase to basic needs over time, the wants increase exponentially; and the more one has, the more one wants.

If it is difficult for adults to distinguish between needs, wants and must haves, imagine how much more difficult it is for young children. It is possibly even more difficult for young children in an age with frequent replacement of one model for another, one gadget and one gimmick for another; the latest is always the best.

This difficulty is the focus of my flash fiction response to Charli’s challenge to in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that explores human needs.

The latest thingamajig

“But Mum, I need it. Everyone’s got one.”

“Who?”

“Marco; and Christopher; and … everybody!”

Mum pictured their big houses and flashy cars.

“Has Yin got one?”

“No.”

“Amir?”

“No.”

“Why do you want it?”

“They won’t play with me if I don’t have one.”

“Who?”

“Marco and Christopher.

“I thought Yin and Amir were your friends.”

“But Marco and Christopher are cool.”

“And you want to be cool like Marco and Christopher?”

His eyes flickered.

“Will you still be cool when they get the next best thing? What about Yin and Amir? Will they still be your friends?”

####

In a recent post Home is where the start is, I wrote about the importance of the early years to a child’s development. I suggested that it is difficult to regain what is missed in those early years. However, as Sarah Brentyn who blogs at Lemon Shark said: it may be difficult, but not impossible to make improvements. Sarah was concerned that parents may not make an effort if they thought it was too late. I agree with Sarah that it is never too late to make improvements. However, it is much more difficult to change established patterns and to make up for lost learning time. Not impossible. Difficult. It is even more difficult for those who have not had their basic needs met.

An article in the Huffington Post on June 30 compares two boys who were born on the same day in the same town, but will have dramatically different lives. The boys are now five years old. One boy who received a diet of nutrient-rich foods is now at school, making good progress, and has many friends.

The parents of the other boy were too poor to do the same for their child. He now suffers from chronic malnutrition, or “stunting”, which affects growth, strength of the immune system, and brain function. According to the article, 1 in 4 children worldwide suffer from chronic malnutrition. The statistics reported in the article are quite confronting, and challenge a privileged view of needs and wants.

After reading the article, it is with some embarrassment that I now admit to a need to be away from the blogosphere for the next few weeks. I will be back intermittently to read and respond to your comments. I apologise in advance for any delay in doing so. Please know that I do enjoy our conversations and appreciate your comments. I will be back to respond to you as soon as I can.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Home is where the start is

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Early childhood years, from 0-8, are the formative years. It is during these years that most is learned. Children learn about the world through their explorations. They learn about themselves through the responses they receive from others, and learn about others through these responses also. Attitudes to most things begin in the home.

Children require warm, nurturing, positive relationships that demonstrate the way life should be lived, in actions, not just words. As Anne Goodwin, former psychologist says, the interactions with significant adults will greatly influence the adult that the child becomes.

If home is where it starts, then we can’t wait until the children are of school age. By then it’s too late. It is relatively undisputed that it is difficult for children to catch up what may have been missed in those early years. Sadly, much of the intense formal work in school does more to alienate these children further, rather than improve their opportunities for learning.

Therefore, we must begin in the home, and I don’t mean with formal structured programs. I mean with fun activities that validate parents and children and provide them with opportunities and suggestions for participation and learning.

Guiding parents in play sessions for parents and children.

Guiding parents in play sessions for parents and children. © Norah Colvin

It is these beliefs that informed my home-based business Create-a-way,

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

and my idea for an early learning caravan that, staffed with an early childhood educator, would

  •  go to the parents and children in their neighbourhoods, meeting in a local park or community greenspace, on regular weekly occasions;
  • invite parents to talk with, read to and play with their children using provided books, games and toys;
  • model positive parenting behaviour, explaining to parents the benefits to their children of engaging with them in activities and discussions;
  • provide suggestions for inexpensive and easy activities to do at home;
  • encourage borrowing from a book and toy library.

Of course, for many parents, such as those reading this post, nurturing a child’s development is almost second nature. They have the education and resources, and a belief in the benefits, to empower them to nurture their children’s development. They require little additional support.

Requiring most support are those without the benefits of education, resources or a belief that life could be improved. If all they have experienced through school systems is failure and rejection, they will have difficulty in perceiving any purpose in trying. It is these parents and their children that we need to reach. If they feel valued, they in turn may find value in others. If we improve the lives of those marginalised by poverty or lack of education, it must contribute to improving our society, and our world, in general. This will help us to feel safe in our homes, in our localities and in the wider world.

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills is talking about homes and the importance of having a roof over our heads. The way we treat each other, especially those hurting, indicates there is a greater need for compassion and for those in need to receive a helping a hand.

In my response to Charli’s flash fiction challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about home, I attempt to show that the situation in which one is raised is not always a self-fulfilling prophecy. Out of the cruellest situations, hope can be born. We, as a society, need to do what we can to give hope to many more, to help break the cycle of despair.

81

The birth of Hope

Startled by the blueness of eyes and the intensity of unfamiliar feelings, she suddenly relaxed, as if finally, home.

She’d not known home before: not locked in a room with hunger the only companion; not shivering through winters, barefoot and coatless; not showered with harsh words and punishments.

She’d sought it elsewhere, mistaking attention for something more. When pregnancy ensued; he absconded. They kicked her out.

Somehow she’d found a place to endure the inconvenience. Once it was out, she’d be gone.

But now, feeling unexpectedly connected and purposeful, she glimpsed something different —a new start, lives entwined: home.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

You’d have to be mad!

That is, as in M.A.D. — Making a Difference.

I love to hear of children being involved in projects that help others, that aim to make a difference to the world. I have previously written about some of those projects here, here, and here.  Sarah Brentyn, who blogs at Lemon Shark, often shares about the wonderful ways in which she and her boys are making a positive difference in their community.

This week I read about the M.A.D. projects of Canadian teacher Peter Cameron (a.k.a. Mr. C) and his students. At the beginning of the school year Mr. C challenged his students with the question, What will you do to make a difference? The projects, which were selected, organised, and conducted by the students, were recently completed. They included things such as:

  • Helping others on snowy days by shovelling driveways
  • Helping parents, grandparents, and great grandparents
  • Giving compliments
  • Supporting Doctors Without Borders
  • Helping the elderly
  • Helping at the Humane Society
  • Keeping their school tidy
  • Assisting the homeless by collecting socks, making supper, and hot chocolate
  • Encouraging kids to eat healthy, and to spend more time outdoors.
  • You can see a celebration of their projects in this video.

Mr. C. said that it was one of the most rewarding aspects of his 20+ years teaching career. The acknowledgement received from their member of parliament in the Canadian House of Commons, and his encouragement for others to join in, further affirmed the merit of the project.

Now Mr C. is reaching out to other classes around the world to join in with their M.A.D. projects and form a Global Make a Difference Team in which participants complete a M.A.D Project to help make our world an even better, happier, healthier place to live”.  Their goal is to have 100+ classes join in. Will yours be one of them?

To make it easy, Mr. C is making available to teachers all of his resources which may be modified to suit individual classes and situations. He says,

“The goal is simple: challenge your school, class, clubs and individual or groups of students to make a difference and see where it takes them! Be sure to let us know that your school/class will be participating and fill in the form to add your class to our M.A.D map!”

Places on the map are so far confined to North America. How wonderful it would be for locations to be added from all around the world. Children would see not only the differences they are making in their own communities, but also the positive actions of others around the world, which may in turn, inspire further projects.

Be sure to let us know of other projects that involve children in making a difference. I know there are many, some conducted by organisations, and others by individuals and families. They are what give us hope for the future.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

Carrot Ranch in Crisis

For more than two years now I have been participating in the weekly flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch. As well as the challenge, I enjoy the camaraderie and support from other writers, especially Charli who ropes us in with her prompts and encouragement.
For the last little while I have been posting my flash fiction responses on Tuesday evenings, just scraping in before Charli’s deadline. But not tonight. Tonight I am sharing Charli’s post, the post that would normally include a flash fiction prompt, but instead this time included a plea for help. Charli is in crisis mode, kicked out of home and in transit.
Often when friends are in need we can lend a hand by cooking a meal, offering a bed for the night, assisting with chores, and listening. But when that friend is over 12,000 kilometres away, helping out is not such an easy thing. For that reason, this evening I am sharing Charli’s post. Maybe one of you is able to help her out in her time of need.
Thank you for reading. As always, I appreciate your feedback.

Carrot Ranch Literary Community

Crisis. I don’t like word. I don’t like the circumstances. I don’t want to ask for help; I’m in need of help; I feel bitter if no one helps and embarrassed if anyone does. Let me back up because this began four years ago.

After fighting in court against a fraudulent mortgage, my husband and I lost our home to foreclosure in April 2012. Over the next few years I watched my husband unravel. Last year I began in earnest to get him in the US Veterans Affairs (VA). Even though his knees were destroyed by the time he was 25 years old (a hardship we’ve dealt with on our own since 1988), the VA finally recognized his disability in 2015. To this date we still don’t have an appointment to evaluate his PTSD.

After we lost our house and Todd took a job in Idaho (where he lived in…

View original post 1,324 more words

A garden party

The purposes of education are many; but perhaps one important purpose of “free” public schooling is to ensure that everyone is provided with the opportunity of being educated. While this goal is achieved to a certain extent, inequalities of opportunity still exist, many of which are related to socioeconomic status (SES).

letter from Camus

While there is no doubt that a teacher can have a powerful effect upon the lives of students and any teacher would love to receive a letter such as that written by Albert Camus, socioeconomic status is often considered to be the most reliable predictor of success in school and, therefore, in life. There are many reasons for this, few of which have anything to do with intelligence.

According to Macquarie University the majority of students in tertiary education are of mid to high socioeconomic status. The parents of these students may have professional backgrounds and may have attended tertiary institutions themselves.  Most have an appreciation of the benefits of higher education and are able to continue supporting their students, to some extent, while they study.

While students of lower SES are attending tertiary institutions in greater numbers they are disadvantaged in doing so by a number of factors, primarily financial in origin. Although Australia is supposedly free of class distinctions, attitudes towards those from lower SES areas are often demeaning and unsympathetic. Students from these areas may battle to develop the self-esteem that seems to be a birthright for others from more privileged backgrounds. The negativism with which they are viewed, and some come to view themselves, can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Ready for school - year 2

Ready for school – year 2

I was a fortunate one for, while I grew up in a family with low SES background, my parents saw the value in education and sacrificed much for their children to have the opportunities it provided. The high costs of tertiary education that are now incurred could not have been afforded, but I achieved well enough in school to obtain a scholarship to teachers’ college and a three-year bond (guaranteed employment) when that was finished.

Nowadays there is no such thing as guaranteed employment and few scholarships. Many families cannot afford to have post-secondary/adult students continue to live at home and not contribute to expenses while they undertake further study. This means that students have the additional burden of working while they are studying. Many opt out of study altogether to seek long term employment, often in low paying jobs with little opportunity for advancement. And so the cycle continues. The lack of permanent employment even for graduates makes deferring earnings less desirable again.

caravan

Of course the disadvantage doesn’t just begin when approaching final years of school. The impacts can be observed from the earliest age. (My suggestion for an early learning caravan addresses this in part.) Although education is provided “free” to students, there are many other associated costs that families may struggle to meet, such as books, equipment, and extra-curricular activities such as excursions and incursions.

In most Australian schools, the wearing of uniforms helps to minimize differences that may otherwise be obvious by choices of clothing and footwear. It also helps to reduce costs. Sometimes additional activities can be a drain on family expenses, and while many schools will fund expenses for those in need, not all families are willing to ask for that help.

DCF 1.0

Studies have shown that many children arrive at school without having eaten breakfast. While this phenomenon can occur in any family, it is more prevalent in low SES areas. Some schools are now providing a healthy breakfast for students when they arrive at school. I think this great as hungry children tend to have difficulty concentrating and learning, are often lethargic and may suffer from mood swings and negative attitudes. I know how irritated I become when I am hungry. My family “joke” about not getting in the way of me and my food! How much worse for children who come to school with empty bellies.

Of course these issues are compounded for children who live in dysfunctional families. As much as we may try to be inclusive and equitable in the way we treat them, these students are often the ones who notice their differences and inadequacies and become most self-critical. It can be a very difficult task to change the attitudes and habits of generations.

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills talked about attending a garden party. The hosts and guests at this party had obviously enjoyed some of the finer things that life reserves for a few.

lake-pend-oreile-cruise-may-21-31

Charli shared a photo of a rather idyllic spot on an island and challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story, using the above photo as a prompt.

Well the photo is beautiful, but I couldn’t get away, I was stuck at the garden party. I thought it was a wonderful analogy for the rewards that can be had from an education; rewards that may be obvious and perhaps available to many, but rewards that may be out of reach to others because of circumstances over which they have no real control. I thought of Marnie who suffers the double disadvantage of a dysfunctional family in a low SES area; but who knows there is something better out there and wants it for herself.

Thanks to Charli for her prompt, here is another episode from Marnie’s life. I hope you enjoy it.

The garden party

Marnie’s face pressed into the bars of the tall white gate with amazement: white-covered tables laden with food; chairs with white bows; white streamers and balloons; and a band!

But the ladies had her spellbound with elegant dresses and high, high heels; flowers in their hair and bright painted lips.

A man in uniform opened the gate to guests arriving in limousines. Marnie followed.

“Not you, Miss,” said the uniformed man.

Marnie held out her invitation, “Jasmine . . .”

But he’d closed the gate and turned away.

Marnie looked down at her stained dress. What was she thinking?

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.