I love to write. There is nothing that soothes my soul more than a quiet hour with a chai tea latte and a notebook or a blank screen. When I travel somewhere new, I look through the eyes of a writer and search for that peaceful place where I can turn my thoughts into words. Finding solitude, with pen and paper grounds me. It’s in these moments that I truly reflect. When I write I give myself time to question, to challenge my own thoughts and ultimately, I get to know myself better. It’s how I put my pieces together.
When life gets busy, finding solitude to reflect and write often takes the shape of a very early morning or a very late night. However, If I let too much time pass without writing I become antsy and crave solitude in a way an athlete craves a game (or so I imagine… embracing the idea of flying projectiles coming towards me is not something i will ever comprehend). Like the athlete, I need these moments to feel truly alive. For me, writing awakens my soul.
Last year, while attending a conference in Denver, I copied down this quote.
One year later, it is still on my mind.
I wonder, as parent and as a principal, if I have missed an opportunity when teaching children. I love to write to put pieces together but how often do I invite children to do the same? Am I teaching children ‘sentipensante’?
Too often in schools, we use spoken word as our go-to strategy for solving problems. Do we see solitude as learning? Communication is important in relationships and from an early age we encourage kids to talk about their feelings. In an extroverted world, spoken word is often our default and yet it may not be the most powerful way to reflect. I can think of many conversations I have had with my own children or with children at school helping them work through emotions. Sometimes those conversations are tough. Sometimes they are uncomfortable. And I realize today that sometimes, for some children, they may not be best.
As a parent of two boys (now age 10 and 12), I am quick to ask my children about their day. I want to know what they loved about school and I often asked who they helped. As they fall asleep, we often reflect on something positive from the day. These are all great practices, and yet again, I have taught my children that reflection is a group process. I can’t remember a time that I have encouraged them to find joy, solve a problem or manage their own struggles through writing. I have never encouraged my children to journal beyond their basic homework assignments. I am so aware of my own need to write in order to learn and yet I haven’t even suggested this as a strategy for my children to try. (I can see journals in their future!)
As a principal, I actually cringe when I think of how often writing has been used as punishment. Luckily I work in an era where the days of writing lines are long gone, and yet I wonder if our “problem solving sheets” are much better. In both situations, writing is used as an immediate consequence. When children are sent to the office, writing is rarely optional and often associated with a negative behaviour. I recognize now that this process causes forced reflection much more than self development.
While problem solving sheets help guide reflection, I wonder if it would be a more authentic process to give children time to write for themselves: time to gather their thoughts, time to reflect, and time to put their own pieces together. Perhaps as a principal I do not need to collect everything a child writes when reflecting. Slowing down and giving children time to write freely and peacefully may be more effective than problem solving sheets followed but a quick conversation just minutes later.
Canadians spend 950 million per year on counselling. We like to talk about our problems. In schools we use conversation, peer mediation, and restorative practices to talk with children. While these are all effective means, I wonder is there is a greater place for writing, for choice and for self reflection. A place for sentipensante. Can I do a better job of helping kids write to put their pieces together? As a parent and a principal, i hope the answer is yes.