Finding Our Way Back Home

Finding Our Way Back Home

For many, last year felt like being swept up in a tornado of anxiety, frustration, and often grief, before landing in a world that was unfamiliar and uncertain. And much like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, many of us are searching for answers to find our way back home--to the familiar, to the comforting. But as any fan of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey will tell you, in order to have the return home, with the wisdom to help yourself and others, one must first go through a transformation.

Transformation usually comes with great pain and sacrifice, but as we see in all of our classic journey stories, there are always guides in those tales who help the heroes along the way. While Dorothy’s ultimate epiphany is that she is the one in control of her world, it is her guides--her mentors along the way--who support her as she comes to that realization and eventually returns home.

Although our mentors in life  can change over time, they are always there. Sometimes they provide a constant guiding star for years, decades, or even across the span of a lifetime. Many would cite their closest family members or best friends as their first and/or longest serving mentors. Others have had a powerful mentor in their lives for only a short time--those whose impact was so great that they altered the course of their lives forever. It is this type of mentor, whose impact is brief but telling, that is often found in teaching.

Teachers guide us through personal journeys; they slowly shepherd us to the manifestation of our highest potential.

This is not an easy task, as change is often overwhelming and frightening, but the best mentors accompany us during those dark times. They point us to self-discovery, helping us carry the proverbial lantern as we tread various paths. If we seek true illumination, we must embrace the deep and elemental understanding that we have been looking elsewhere for truth when it has been within us all along. This is the ultimate lesson which carries Dorothy home.

Experiencing that moment of clarity and empowerment alongside a mentor who believes in us-- who perhaps even restores our belief in ourselves-- gives us the opportunity to then mentor others in need of guidance. Ideally, this cycle, like The Hero’s Journey, continues again and again throughout our lives. We become the hero in our own life’s journey, both as the mentee and the mentor, the guided and the guide.

Whether real or fictional, it is the souls who are able to face great obstacles in life, and despite seemingly insurmountable odds against them, are able to survive and share their lessons and successes with others which, in turn, inspire us. One such source of real-life inspiration is the admirable American scientist and autism advocate, Temple Grandin, who wrote the moving book entitled The Loving Push. Grandin writes about the importance of parents and teachers as mentors, and advocates that instead of protecting and shielding our autism spectrum children from hardships and struggle, we should instead give them a “loving push”  in order to show all available possibilities. She further asserts that this “loving push” is something we should do with all children.

Citing lessons from her own life as proof in its power, Grandin believes that we must not condone children constantly choosing to live in a comfort zone--that is not growth. The concept of a “loving push” is at the heart of encouraging children to take worthwhile risks in life. Her own life experiences illuminate that lovingly pushing children to grow in new ways provides for a positive and ultimately empowering shift in a child’s world.

The loving push metaphor also encapsulates what all good mentors do: they push us in loving and supportive ways in order for us to grow and develop into our best selves--no matter what our age.

One of the greatest parts of being a teacher is that we can model that experience with our students. We can share the times when we are uncertain or uncomfortable in learning something new--the mistakes we make and how we correct them. We can share certain aspects about how we, ourselves, are struggling to make it through a difficult time in our personal lives, or how we are figuring out our feelings about larger global issues. We can share that in these painful struggles we look to our own guides, our mentors, to help us grow through adversity. We must model the strength that it takes to allow ourselves to be guided through challenging times if we truly expect students to trust us with their uncertainties and challenges as well.

As we model this cycle of learning new and often difficult lessons, our children see that learning is not simply the acquisition of knowledge; learning is also sharing those often strenuous experiences with those who guide you. This is what makes the art of teaching (and learning) such a valuable and intertwined endeavor: in its most pure form, it has the possibility to transform a reluctant student into a lifelong learner. It shows that learning goes far beyond the facts, figures, and concepts laid before them in a textbook, and that the most powerful moments of true learning cannot be quantified. And if we are fortunate enough to see our children modeling this behavior towards others--or even back to us--well, there is no greater gift.

For most of us, last year was an unparalleled storm--a storm to rival any in our lives. But we know inherently that we will find our way back from Oz, and when we do, may we do so with deeper self-awareness and wisdom. Like Dorothy, may we take the time to look around and see our guides, our mentors, surrounding us--wherever they may be. And, as we most assuredly shall struggle, stumble, and possibly lose our way in the future, may we know with certainty that they will be there to help us find our way home again.

Dawn MacFarland has 20 years of service in the classroom to military-connected students and families through DoDEA (Department of Defense Education Activity). She began her teaching career in Tucson, Arizona, and has taught in London, England, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as well as Hanau and Stuttgart, Germany.Ms. MacFarland’s lifelong commitment is dedicated to educating the whole child—mind and heart.  Ms. MacFarland’s career is cultivated by a mindset that looks beyond typical markers of student success and dives deeper into areas of long-term student development and growth.  Her entire concept of teaching revolves around the idea that in education, as in life, leaders need to build relationships, and create climates of security, in order to get the best out of the communities they serve. Ms. MacFarland was a DoDEA Teacher of the Year finalist in 2020 and is the DoDEA Europe East Teacher of the Year. She is a proud member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY), and you can follow her on Twitter @MindandHeartEDU.


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