My principal has been posting some moving items on her Facebook page about the upcoming year. I am grateful for them, for they speak to the affective afflictions that all people in school systems–from admins to students to staff to teachers–are going through. Today she posted one that resonated with me for the single word it points to, “Grace.” For decades it has been one of my favorite words because of the gift it denotes–a gift we must offer ourselves and others but which, especially in times of crisis, strife, or political infighting, we forget.
This summer I’ve been musing on Grace even more. Certainly the pandemic has had something to do with that. As has the revolution in thought and culture stemming from the murder of George Floyd. And my belief in civil civic discourse having taken such a hit in these past 4 years…Grace there, too, is key.
More than any other thing that has moved me to contemplate grace, however, is Gilead, Marilynne Robinson’s brilliant “wisdom novel” about an aging Congregationalist Reverend, his family, and the things we must learn to forgive through the granting of grace. No book in decades has so shaken me. The shift in how I see myself, my role as father and husband, and even as teacher was tectonic. It is a book as quiet and comforting as a Quaker meeting, and in whose silences and stories we find such grace. I cannot recommend it enough.
Anyway, my principal, posted this article. Please read it. Regardless of whether you are a teacher, administrator, or whomever…read it. As you’ll note in my reply to her today (quoted below), it’s as good a recipe for being human as any I’ve seen.
“[C…], you’ve been in my classroom many times. You might recall the way my blackboard looked and the fact that I use a set of “values” to guide the students in my classes (see image). This summer I read a magnificent book, Gilead
, by Marilynne Robinson. So much of it revolves around grace and forgiveness. It moved me in a way no other book has done in decades. Between that and all the thoughts and posts and other readings I’ve done this summer, I resolved to add another word to that board. It is not a value. Instead, it is a virtue, and while we’ll be virtual for some time, the word will play a huge role in the way the class community grows.
That word is “grace.” We all need more of it, for so many reasons this year (and always)–many of those reasons are in this article you posted. (Which, by the way, is as good a “menu” for how to be a decent human being as any I’ve seen in a while.)
Without granting grace to others (and ourselves!) and practicing it as a class virtue, we will not develop the courage we will need to evolve, as teachers, administrators, and learners this year. And we need to evolve. Because without grace, many of us will be unable to imagine how things can/need to be different.
The greatest tool in Chaos/Crisis is imagination. Teachers, administrators, Students, all the staff…we will never feel comfortable enough to employ our imaginations if grace is not at the foundation of our culture. Permission to research, prototype, and try out new ways of doing things requires grace, because we will, inevitably, fail in some of our attempts. But as the by-now clichéd usage notes, we will be “failing forward,” always in search of the better–the better system, the better teacher, the better school, the better self.
We need grace for that evolution to happen.”
(Cover image by Birgit Whelan)