Author Ann Braden was kind enough to join the Messalonskee Middle School faculty Zoom meeting this morning. Braden was supposed to visit MMS last week as a part of the community read of her book Benefits of Being an Octopus. While that visit has been pushed back until September, she took some time to chat with the faculty and answer their questions about her work.
Braden was positive and enthusiastic, and as a former middle school teacher herself, really empathized with the teachers for “having to do so much work without the reward of being able to connect and laugh” with their students.
Principal Mark Hatch asked her for suggestions for how they could continue to have their students connect with this book and its characters as they continue to learn from home.
As many of Braden’s books focus on individuals struggling to find their own voice amidst the realities of life, she offered a few ideas for helping students living in this historic time realize that their voice is just as important as anyone else’s.
“Giving kids the opportunity to write about things that they are angry about can be so helpful in situations like these,” said Braden. She added that writing can also give people a much-needed sense of control. She said that there are four steps she usually teaches to help students find their voice.
- “ Find your superpowers. Everyone has strengths that they use to cope with the situation they are facing. You do have them; it’s just a matter of looking.”
- “Name your obstacles so you can make decisions about how to deal with them. The first step is to figure out what is getting in your way. Sometimes we can change the obstacle and sometimes we can’t, but we can always change how we respond to it.”
- “Speak up and tell your story, as challenging as that can be.”
- “Team up. Find the people who hear you and support you.” Brainstorm and build ideas from there.
She also reminded faculty that situations like these just increase societal disparity and how important it is to help students who are struggling so they can feel connected and not alone.
Toward the end of the meeting, Braden read the quote from The Octopus: Graceful Cephalopod of the Deep by Derby King that she used at the beginning of her book. “The history of the octopus illustrates the brain’s ability to evolve. As they lost their ancestors’ protective shells they were forced to become more intelligent.”
Principal Hatch said he’s thought of that quote over the past 3 weeks as he’s watched the entire MMS community try to redefine normal and find what is going to work best for the community as a whole.
“I keep coming back to that quote and the idea that [this situation] is forcing us to become smarter and adapt,” said Hatch.
Ms.Braden ended by saying how much she looks forward to meeting the faculty in person and getting to speak with the students during her trip to MMS this fall.