Stories and Dreams of Maple Leaf

It’s 3:21 am and I wake up with stories and dreams of Maple Leaf. My head is so full from all the hopes, stories, wishes and dreams for Maple Leaf that I get up as if three in the morning is when my work day starts – it’s effortless. Before I know it, I’m here at my computer bursting with all I have to tell.

I have this interview question that I’ve wanted to add to our list of standard questions for candidates. Those on the parent board (and teachers) who have sat in on interviews with us know them – we ask them so that every candidate has the same opportunity and we’re able to compare candidates more accurately. The questions we ask are open ended and of course there are no right or wrong answers, we simply want to know more about each person as a teacher. However, this new question would be an unfair question! But somehow I feel that it would tell me all I need to know about how a person will lead. Somehow I would find a way to make candidates choose who was more important: the children? the teachers, or the parents? It’s a ridiculous question, of course, the answer is obvious that really we have to prioritize all these role players equally to make a wonderful school. I asked this question to myself a few weeks ago. This silly, ridiculous question – it’s how my goofy brain works – the children love it! “Silly Ms Retha!” we would laugh and learn that even adults make mistakes in their thinking. I know which one I would have chosen and it’s the “wrong one”, but somehow it was right for what Maple Leaf needed and this is how we are looked after… the right people come into our lives and paths at the right moment. They’re incomplete people, silly people, and flawed in many ways like myself, yet we need them and they become part of our stories. We are woven into one other’s stories and journeys to become more whole and more authentically us.

Authentic is a word I’ve encountered more and more in early childhood circles. I know where it started. It was with Carla Rinaldi – a great thinker and philosopher in early childhood pedagogy that has influenced the whole world to admire and hold up Reggio Emilia schools as the gold standard for early childhood. I listened to one of her interviews once, and she spoke about the cathartic moment she was able to be present and authentically be herself in the moment with a child after many many years in education. You would think it would be easy to just be yourself, but teachers (and directors) are on this journey every day – with each year I teach I feel that I move closer to just being with the children in the moment and giving all of myself to them, authentically, just the way that I am, no textbooks or pre-existing notions on how to teach.

One day, Rowan was halfway up the stairs to exit at the front door when he spontaneously turns around, runs down the steps and plants a kiss on my lips. It was so authentic, I hardly remember how it happened. Did I bend down? How did that happen? Was it unprofessional? Was it inappropriate? But I smiled, waved goodbye and threw in a last “love you!” as he ran back up to his dad and I exited to join back in the classroom, because all of a sudden I was at peace. Rowan had visited his Auntie Retha and played at her house all day and wanted to say goodbye properly, as one does with one’s favourite aunt! I accepted it. I accepted it as one of the moments I must have been so authentically me that Rowan and I ended our day with a kiss goodbye.

My dream for Maple Leaf is that you will find these partnerships with teachers and directors – learning what it means to be a teacher and learning how to be with children, to live in peace with children, to guide them without suffocating them, to give them spaces to learn and grow freely, free from restrictions and notions of “what is a classroom”. I hope for many other incomplete people to come into your lives and grow with your children into their authentic selves. Make stories together! The day we walked over to the pond and brought a crayfish into the classroom. The day we came to the school when it was dark and did a concert for our parents (though when the children tell this story it’s more about drinking hot chocolate). Our most recent story: the day we found a dead mouse between the dress-up clothes after winter and Ms Cassi and Ms Retha screamed “Don’t look! Don’t look!” (not wanting the children to be sad at a thing so dead).

I know this is a period of uncertainty and some sad goodbyes. But I’m writing to you to tell you, I see so many amazing things in the school’s future, knowing the stories and people at Maple Leaf – you’re on a bright path, lit up by lots of important individuals: children, parents and teachers. We’ve appointed someone wonderful to lead the way up the path next: Xandra Wishnefsky. She’s the right person at the right time, I know it, I believe it so strongly. Hold her hand, walk together and continue to build a beautiful school together in a true partnership with the teachers.

I will leave an Irish Blessing from my old choir here for you – it hits home for me because I sang it many times at the end of the year when we say goodbye at the last concert of the year. But they also sing it in Afrikaans, the language of my emotions, in the last half of the song. May you experience the peace of knowing that there is enough grace for each of us to make it through the toughest situations, that we come (and go) into each other’s lives for many reasons, and that we don’t need a lot of faith for this, we just need faith like a little mustard seed. I hope that I lived love and much joy in my work every day – I’ve loved your children as if they were my own family and my heart grew three sizes.

Retha van Wyk

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