Inspired. Peaceful. Insightful. These are the three words that represent the book that I just finished reading. Do not be fooled by the title; yes if you are a teacher or school leader you will be interested and feel empowered about the profession that you have chosen. And, if you are a lover of amazing stories of life journeys and decisions then this book is a great choice to curl up and read. Teaching at the Top of the World is written by a fellow New Brunswick educator, Odette Barr, as she shares her experience as a teacher and principal traveling to live and work in Grise Fiord, the most isolated community in the Canadian Arctic.
Odette’s writing makes me feel proud to be an educator, envious of the experience that she had by moving to the north for an entire decade, gasping at the struggles that surely were more demanding than her strong personality allowed them to be, smiling at the visuals of students and families waiting every year at the air strip to greet the teachers when they arrived at the end of the summer and in amazement of what beautiful appreciation to nature and the world around creates when you notice. I can feel the joy of the lengthening of the days as the sun finally appears for a few minutes longer in the winter months; taking the community from darkness to, as Odette describes, the days of endless sunlight- months and months of one very long day. (p. 68)
As I write this blog, we are still in challenging days- COVID-19 is still with us and many, many cities and towns across North America and beyond are feeling the impact of protests supporting Black Lives Matter. I am thinking about the lessons that I have learned or I have been reminded of in this book and how they are relevant to the current realities of our world. Using quotes from Teaching at the Top of the World, here are a few of the “lessons learned” from the top of the world:
“Energy is not wasted on idle chatter. Most Inuit respect people who can quietly observe and take in their surroundings without talking all the time.” (p. 26 and 31)
Question: Isn’t this exactly what our world needs right now? To be listened to? To be heard? To be understood and not through idle chatter?
“Culturally relevant teaching empowers students by using cultural examples to impact knowledge, skills, and attitudes.” (p. 114)
Question: How will we culturally respond so all lives matter? How will we show our students, no matter what the color of their skin, their ethnicity, their income, where they live or who their parents are- that they matter. Their culture matters, their lives matter.
“Although effective communication in itself is difficult to achieve, it is not enough to simply communicate well – a reciprocal relationship of mutual appreciation and understanding needs to be established so the relationship benefits both sides.” (p. 148)
Question: Need we say more about this one? In order to have impact and live and work in a trusting world (school or anywhere), we need a reciprocal relationship of mutual respect and appreciation.
“It seems to me that a large part of effective teaching anywhere involves attention to small but important details like learning how to pronounce new names quickly.” (p. 32)
Question: Do we take the time to get to know one another? How many times do you walk away and know that you have forgotten someone’s name? How can we improve our relationships (in school or anywhere) with more respect for the small (and very large details)?
Thank you, Odette, for allowing me to escape our realities right now and live through your experiences. Thank you for the reminders that community building, connections and authentic attention to respectful relationships matter. Odette’s lessons from the wonderful Inuit people are our lessons. What they need, we need. What they want, we want. Please find time to enjoy this book. You will be so glad that you did. It is published and available through http://www.PottersfieldPress.com. and I am sure will be available through multiple online sources soon.