Roots

Two women stood, wrapped in dark waist-length jackets and propped on four inch heels. They used laser pointers to explain the graphics and pop-ups that appeared on the huge screen. Their point: The new text books would snatch order from the jaws of chaos. Every question had been anticipated by Doctor This and Professor That. They had books for those who excelled. Others editions for those who struggled. Everything for everyone one all shrink-wrapped and ready for delivery on palettes to each and every school.

Then, the questions began coming. Clarifying at first, and then coming in rat-a-tat-tat fashion. What if this and what about that and do these align and how about English Learners? One of the presenters juggled through the first eight questions, but ran out of spin and had to stop. The down-spot light revealed beads of sweat on her pink forehead. She was getting burned alive. A very old principal sitting to my left saw what I saw and said aloud “guess you didn’t have all the answers after all, little miss.” The break came just in time.

If presented with ripe, shrink-wrapped fruit and instructions to grow a tree that will match that fruit, refuse the offer. We all know it doesn’t work like that. The connection between fruit and roots is dynamic, but starts, every time, with the roots. Likewise, teaching and learning begin in relationship. I have witnessed teachers and principals who engage their art with very simple tools. The simpler the better! But from relationship, core questions arise. Their magic comes from getting the seed planted and from watering that seed so that it grows. They do not sweat what they can’t control.

Then, there is the opposite:

I worked with a teacher who, until last week, came in each morning to the school’s office and complained. The gate hadn’t been locked. There was trash on the path leading toward the school. No one had cleaned her room. And how could she teach without a working projector? She seemed beside herself with frustration and neither of us knew how to address it. Then, Friday morning, I couldn’t take it any more. When she showed up at 8:01AM, I asked her, before she said even one more word, to say good morning and maybe ask how I was. I told her if she couldn’t start her day right, she could forget the rest. The exchange made me said. I wondered whether I had lost touch with my fundamentals

Fundamentals – like one particular gift, when, on a weekend last April, I walked through a stand of huge Douglas Fir trees in Sonoma. I want to believe that the trees in that stand touched me – as if they had ancient voices that most people can’t hear. Their message: We are here. We have been here. We will stay. That’s what need to hear and hold to sustain me in when I search inside for  a connection that is constant and deep. No slick delivery required. Nothing more than an assurance that I can surrender to the cycles and let true things grow.

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