“Joyful relationships have the power to transform broken lives, families, churches ministries and ministry teams, school, neighborhoods, and cultures.” ~ E. James Wilder
Meet Gilbert! She (yes, she!) arrived late to join our family of 3 ducks and 2 chickens. I took on the task of acclimating Gilbert to the coop with all the seriousness of a Mama Bear and an Ambleside Teacher. This is what you do when your own two older children ‘fly the coop’, your youngest gets a job, and you haven’t been to school since March.
As I watched Gilbert transition, it didn’t take long to notice something was a little off with her. She was awkward, slow to move, and generally seemed unaware of necessary things like food and water. I breathed a sigh of relief when she finally pecked at food like the others. The only positive thing I could note was that since she was slow, she was easy to catch. It was while holding her I noticed her feet. They were shriveled, not spread out, with her toes pointing in the wrong direction. No wonder she struggled to keep up. A bit of Panic came over me. I’ve read how other chickens can be unkind and hurtful to weaker ones. I was afraid to leave Gilbert with the others in the coop at night. For the next two nights, I separated her into her own area by herself. The second night I lay in bed wondering if I had done the right thing. I was sad for Gilbert. I even commented to my husband that Gilbert needed a safe community and it probably wasn’t good for her to be alone. I couldn’t see, but I’m almost certain he rolled his eyes! At this point, you might be rolling your eyes too thinking I was overly consumed with a chicken. But I couldn’t help myself, it’s how I’ve been trained.
At Ambleside, a third of what we do as teachers is to facilitate a joyful atmosphere. We know that joy is a foundational state for optimal learning. And, joy levels will build around people who respond tenderly to weakness.
In any relationship, how we respond to weakness separates us as predators or protectors. Both are watchful. But, while predators see weakness as an opportunity to pounce or take advantage, protectors respond in ways that create belonging and build joy. In the book ‘Joy Starts Here,’ by E. James Wilder, it says protectors can build joy in three ways. First, by amplifying any joy they find instead of amplifying problems and upsets. Second, protectors recognize when people are tired and let them rest because weakness often shows up as fatigue, overwhelm, and getting tired. They encourage the weak to go a bit further then, let them rest until joy returns. The third way to build joy is by sharing distress caused by weakness even when the protector induced the stress. In this way, we can grow the ability to recover and return to joy after upset.
Each day as Ambleside teachers encounter weaknesses, they strive to respond in these ways, treating relationships as more important than problems.
For Gilbert to become a joyful, egg-producing chicken, she would need protectors. I decided to take a risk and leave her with the others the next night. Anxiously I went to check on her in the morning. To my sweet surprise, it was evident she was among protectors. I found Gilbert comfortably nestled between the two ducks. Now she’s usually found hobbling along not far from them. With Gilbert in good hands and the return to school, I can appropriately turn my focus to tenderly responding to weakness and building joy in my classroom and across campus. Yes! I would say it is good to be back in school.
If you’d like to read more about building joy in your home and community, a copy of “Joy Starts Here” is available for your family. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to receive a copy.