As I mentioned in my last blog post, I’m continuing to unpack the graphic on the left, the Learning Cycle with Projects, in the hopes of providing clearer support for the upcoming Edifide PD days this spring. Thanks again to OCSAA for letting me use my article published in The Rudder last year. Along with vision and our imagining of our future, memory forms the second half of my focus on narrative.
Paul Ricoeur highlights the importance of memory as the way in which we acquire our personal narrative identity:
It is by trying to put order on our past, by retelling and recounting what has been, that we acquire an identity. To ‘repeat’ our story, to retell our history, is to recollect our horizon of possibilities in a resolute and responsible manner… . Narration preserves the meaning that is behind us so that we can have meaning before us.
The way that we organize our past becomes our story, our place in a larger history. And many of us have embraced the Christian narrative as the mysterious story of the universe that fills our individual and communal lives with significance. As Bartholomew and Goheen state:
Are we left with our own personal stories to make sense of our lives? Or is there a true story that is bigger than … us, through which we can understand the world and find meaning for our lives? Are our personal stories—apart or together—parts of a more comprehensive story? … We believe N.T. Wright is correct in saying that the Bible offers a story that is the true story of the whole world.
Twice in my teaching career—very early and more recently—I’ve been with a teaching staff that committed to sharing our faith journeys with each other for weekly devotions. What an incredible way to become grafted into a learning community! I was mentored by my colleagues who were willing to share their convictions and doubts with each other, showing each other how significant experiences from their past had shaped their beliefs and their vision for the future. I saw the beauty and brokenness of individuals and the way our families of origin can shape our own sense of self. I listened to colleagues share their experiences of suffering and testify to the way the Spirit had mysteriously taken those trials and woven them into a faith tapestry that was all the more beautiful and complex, tapestries that revealed both joy and lament, certainty and doubt.
The way we organize our memories for meaning shapes our identities. Sometimes, however, it seems easier just to bury our past, especially when our fears or insecurities feel overwhelming. I think this can happen in our experiences as schools. If I don’t feel a sense of confidence in my school culture to be vulnerable, I’ll withdraw and withhold both my successes and failures. It’s tempting to just hide within the privacy of my own classroom or office a bad lesson or interaction where I lost control.
When we bury our memories and don’t actively reflect on them, we only deepen the impact that they will have on our current reality. Dan Goleman reveals how a memory can impact the present either positively or negatively, depending on how we “reconstruct” it:
Our memories are in part reconstructions. Whenever we retrieve a memory, the brain rewrites it a bit, updating the past according to our present concerns and understanding… . Thus each time we bring a memory to mind, we adjust its very chemistry: the next time we retrieve it, that memory will come up as we last modified it. The specifics of the new consolidation depend on what we learn as we recall it. If we merely have a flare-up of the same fear, we deepen our fearfulness.
This reality has implications for both our personal and professional well-being, both our inward and outward flourishing. Our own inner mental health is a key part of a larger community’s well-being. Having a family therapist as a mother has helped me recognize there should be no stigma attached to this recognition. We would never try to fix a broken leg without professional medical help. Why would we treat our mental health differently? Many churches and employees have set up free confidential counselling support as a part of community health. Woodland CHS, Quinte CHS, and Chatham Christian School have all created that support for their students.This is brilliant. I’m sure they’d be excited if you contacted them to explore this for your own school community.
Not only is it important to attend to our inner mental health, it is imperative that staffs and students work together to actively reflect on past experience to deepen our learning too. I’ve been blessed to have school leaders that were always pleased to listen to me share a story of excitement or frustration from my work. Many schools are using Protocols to create professional learning small groups that deepen our effectiveness and the quality of our learning designs. That professional support has helped empower me to create an ethos of honesty in the learning communities that I have also led in my classrooms.
Reflecting on my own experiences as a teacher helps me actively shape the narrative of my identity as a teacher. This also applies to our students as they deepen their understanding of their own identities and vocational possibilities? Who are they based on what they know from their past and based on the way they envision their future? What are they learning about the mystery of Christ’s offer of shalom to the world, and their own place in that narrative? What learning projects can help clarify their gifts and skills and continue to empower them in that journey? What learning experiences can we design to help students deepen their sense of purpose and place in this world? We know that we will experience both joys and struggles along the way. The real test is whether the experiences feel important, and how much we’re able to reflect on those experiences and weave them into meaningful narratives as individuals and as communities. Cheryl Webb made that realization on Twitter during Marilyn Chandler McEntyre’s keynote at the #edifide convention in the fall:
Active, honest reflection and organization of our past memories is a significant part of moving forward in learning. Let me leave you with these questions to challenge your thinking on memory and reflection in your own practice:
- How much have you reflected on your own memories and identity? Have you ever had to write out a version of your own “autobiography”?
- Have you shared parts of your own faith journey with your colleagues? Would you feel comfortable doing so? Why or why not?
- Do you have a structure with your colleagues to collaborate together on your school’s vision for learning?