With the passing of Ram Dass this past December, many have taken to sharing his words of wisdom across the web over the past month, and I am grateful for it. His thoughts are so simple, yet so profound–so true.
The quote I’ve shared with you here popped up on my facebook stream yesterday and it really resonated with me. It aligns precisely with my beliefs about educating the young people who enter my classroom every day.
I see each of my students like the trees Ram Dass describes. In my high school classrooms, there may be the 16 year-old or 17 year-old variety of teenager–just as an oak or a gingko is a variety of tree–and each one is unique in his or her own way. They all come with different stories and different reasons for being who they are. Some are already tall and strong, with deep roots. Others are like saplings, in need of as much water and sun and love as I can give. If I don’t acknowledge this–if I don’t accept why my trees are different–I will fail in helping them as they try to continue to grow. I will have failed as their caretaker because I didn’t appreciate each one or tend to each of them individually.
In the classroom I call my forest, it is my goal to help each of my trees get the care it needs on a daily basis. I need to nurture them so they grow strong, despite their difficult beginnings. I need to encourage them to grow tall and full so they can provide shade to those around them who need it. I need to teach them how to destroy toxicity and partner with others to provide air to those struggling to breathe. I have to encourage them to be unafraid to drop their cover and show the world who they really are, but only when the time is right. It is my job to give them the support they need so their bark will grow thick, but not so thick that they become numb to feeling. I want each tree to be whole enough that they can stand on their own when they leave our little forest for the big forest called Life.
The expression “can’t see the forest for the trees” is often used when one is too involved in the details of a problem to look at the situation as a whole. As a teacher, this expression is the antithesis of my role in our forest. I must look at the details of every single tree in order to watch the whole forest thrive. I see the forest because I look at each tree–each root, each trunk, each limb, each leaf. This is what I call teaching Root to Canopy.
I love every beautiful, unique tree in my forest, and I am blessed to be able to walk among them each day.