A Pebble in Your Shoe


Have you ever had a pebble in your shoe?

You know that feeling, right? Annoying. Troublesome. Yet, we are too impatient to take our shoe off and remove the crippling pebble.

Instead, we move our foot around awkwardly (sometimes to a grand balancing act!) We try to place that pebble between our toes—or in that slim space between the side of our foot and the side of our shoe.

And, just when we think we have won over the pebble—OUCH—that once smooth annoyance becomes a sharp pain on the most impossible part of our foot and we have no choice but to sit down, remove the shoe and remove the pebble.

I feel like some of the conversations we should be having about education are pebbles in our shoes. We simply (awkwardly) move them around so it feels better—until it doesn’t.

My pebble in my shoe (one of many, I might add) is courageous conversations. When I see something that goes against my educational or even my humanistic philosophy. I admit. Sometimes it feels like a boulder, not a pebble. But I tend to roll them around and pretend it’s not there–even when I can feel it.

Recently? I watched a teacher sit her entire class down outside during recess for a timed 8 minute “watch the other children play while you sit and think about…” (My kiddoes were the only other children playing.)

I know for a fact thinking about … (insert whatever they were told to think about) was the furthest thing from their little minds.

And y’all.

I felt BAD.

The pebble became a huge concrete slab being dropped on my big toe.

I wanted to walk over and say, “Go play. Go run. Be a kid” regardless of the fallout. I wanted to rescue these little people from something I so vehemently oppose.

But I couldn’t. And I didn’t. (But I should have and realistically I could have.)

So the pebble remained. And for a few days it rolled over my toes. Struck my heel. Irritated my steps.

I asked myself, realizing that there are SO many pebbles in our shoes when it comes to education, how do we subtly remove a pebble from our shoe like the conversation that needs to be had with this teacher?

For me, it starts with framing the issue. I have to ask myself is this affecting kids? Some would argue (most, in fact) that if it’s not bothering MY job, MY tasks, MY responsibilities—why do I get worked up about it, why do I make it my business?

Simple. Kids are OUR kids. My kids. Your kids. OUR KIDS. 

So. If something happens that affects kids, our kids, I have no choice but to act. These are the things for me, no matter the pebble that I am polishing.

First? Take a deep breath. It’s hard. Especially in a role such as mine. I am not the administrator. I am not the ultimate authority. I am “one of us” and take my role as teacher to be one of camaraderie and support and positivity.

Second? Write it down. I do not send the conversation in an e-mail. But for me? If I write it down, I tend to temper the emotion. I can process through what I am going to say. Even if it doesn’t go exactly like the blueprint, writing it down allows me to clarify what I want to say.

Third? Be empathetic. I tend to be an empathetic person. It goes out the window when I witness something that distresses me. But in order to have these conversations, we have to be empathetic. We have to come from a place of love and understanding (even when we are thinking what in the world is going on?!?!)

Ninety-nine percent of the time (hopefully) I think teachers (all of us) are well-meaning. I don’t think we are doing anything with poor intentions. I think, instead, we don’t even know the message we are sending out because we are not reflective. It’s not even that we are ill-equipped. We simply don’t take ourselves out of a situation and ask, “What is the perception here? How is this impacting kids beyond this eight minutes? Why is this even an issue for me? What can I do differently?”

You see. Some people don’t have pebbles in their shoes. So we have to be empathetic to those that simply don’t know the feeling.

My conversation went a little like this:

“Hey, have you ever had a pebble in your shoe? You know…no one put it there on purpose. It just sort of appears?”

“Yeh. It’s so annoying.”

“Well. I get them too and sometimes I bring them on myself, but sometimes they just appear on their own. I noticed last week your entire class was sitting out for recess.”

“Oh yeh. Well let me tell you what they were doing…”

“Before you tell me, I want you to know that I’m only talking to you as a friend. I know kids can get annoying at times. They are kids after all. But I think you have such talents as a teacher and it would make me really sad for you if people’s impression of you was what I saw on the playground. Even more importantly? I want your kids to love you and see all of the joy and passion you have for teaching. I am certain they did something that frustrated you. But can I suggest that the next time you feel inclined to sit every last child out for recess—instead—you write it down on a pebble, at least in your head…and figure out a different way to handle it? I am happy to brainstorm with you—but I really believe if you let kids play—it will come back in positive heaps to you!”

And I gave her a pebble.

I haven’t been back outside with this teacher to see if the pebble analogy had the magic I wanted it to have. But the circumstance allowed me to grow a little bit. Certainly the more we approach things with clarity of thought, empathy, a deep breath and a mindset of “for the kids” these pebbles get easier to remove.

I’ve started keeping real pebbles—with things written on them–on my desk. Sometimes it’s a child’s name—to remind me to try something new or have more patience. Sometimes it’s some action or “policy” that I want to see change or other times it’s an idea that just needs some time to ruminate. And sometimes, it’s something that nags at me to complete (blog entries—grants—lesson plans.)

I haven’t quite solved how to remove all the pebbles in my shoe at one time. And sometimes the removal of them is an awkward process or just when you think you’ve gotten rid of it—it makes itself known again.

However, I feel if we look at obstacles in education whether it’s that “one” learner, that “one” parent, the policy, or even a courageous conversation, as merely a pebble, we begin to change our posture, change our stance and ultimately get rid of the pebbles to make things better for everyone.

What pebbles do you have in your shoe? Are you working to remove them or just move them around until they become more of a problem?

Author: Dr. Valerie King

Quirky thinker. Joyful teacher. Perpetual learner. For the Kids.

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