“Be kind to everyone, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” (Plato)
My best friend recently asked me to come up with the name of a book or movie that best described myself. I thought long and hard about this, as no title initially came to mind. Then it came to me. It was neither a book nor movie, but a bible verse:
“Restore one another in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1-9)
This verse, in fact, was the guiding theme of my school board, the Ottawa Catholic School Board, for the past two years. After careful contemplation, I realized that this verse best encapsulated who I am as a whole: mother, teacher, friend, and colleague. Not just now, but dating back to my early childhood. I have always felt a need to intervene in the face of suffering. In my early years, my mother was told I should toughen up, as I would cry when others cried. I have always been a restorer. As a child, it was a peer sitting alone in the school yard. As a teenager, it was befriending the loner. As a teacher, it is using empathy as a guiding principle in my daily interactions and it is in teaching the students to do the same. I am by nature, an empath. But, in the field of education, we should all be.
When our school board theme began two years ago, I created a display outside my Grade 6 classroom with the words emblazoned: Restore One Another in the Spirit of Gentleness. As I created this display, I never knew how meaningful it would become to one particular student in my room. That Fall, by October, this student had been quickly removed from his home due to severe physical abuse. Overnight, his world was changed forever. To my astonishment, he returned to school the very next day. School, for him, had been his safe haven. He returned to us – to nourish, to love and to restore him.
As the days passed, we began to slowly interact with him about his experiences and what he had endured. At one moment, he and I were standing at my doorway and I pointed to the quote beside my door. I told him that it was our role, as educators and as his ‘family” at school, to restore him through these hard times. To guide him, to fill the missing gaps, to help him see his strengths and to rebuild him into the person he was destined to become.
When the winter came upon us, and the colder days emerged, this student fell into greater despair. Unfathomable thoughts emerged, a darkness fell upon him. While a range of supports were in place to deal with his emotional struggles, we, his teachers were on the frontlines with him on a daily basis. With a cyclone in his mind, it was impossible for him to complete work. His life, belongings, and entire being were in disarray. This is when I pulled him aside and told him, as much as others are sometimes needed to restore us, we also need to restore ourselves. In the end, it is our story to write, and our life to live. As much as he had been dealt a terrible hand of cards, it was up to him now to play the cards as best he could. Our school team worked with him to realize his potential, move him forward and rekindle the flame which had been extinguished in him.
Restoration is the process of sharing the burden, lightening the load, and about helping others regain Faith and Hope. It is about repairing harm, growing and moving on. It is also about giving others or sometimes ourselves another chance.
Restorative practice is a regular part of my classroom practice. We held several whole group restorative circles last year, but I also open up discussion when needed to vent issues – either small group, whole class or one-on-one discussion. One of my students said it best last year during a class discussion, “Ms. Azzi, you have no idea what each of us goes through before we even come to school in the morning.” Before we can teach them the curricular expectations, we need to ensure their social emotional well-being. As Maslow’s hierarchy examines, we need to surface and fulfill the needs for safety, love and belonging.
Some students come to school ready to learn, while others require that we understand their need to be loved, replenished and restored. There is a need for us to know our students, and pay attention to not just what they say, but to their actions. Sometimes, the student who appears the most in control, can be the one secretly breaking apart on the inside.
With the idea of restoration, is also the idea that we need to be gentle on ourselves and ensure that we restore ourselves through the dark times and challenges in life. Restoration is as much a part of lessening our own burdens and repairing ourselves, as it is about supporting others.
Be kind to yourself, and let’s be kind to each other.