“Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its life believing that it is stupid” – Albert Einstein
In a world where so much of our school system is focused on getting our children to fit inside the box and collectively swim upstream, we as teachers and parents tend to forget sometimes about those who no matter how hard they try, will always swim against the current. Those young minds that hold all sorts of greatness but because of how they are forced to think and act and learn, that greatness remains unlocked…untapped…. and unrecognised.
Enter the best selling children’s novel “Fish in a tree” by Lynda Mullaly Hunt which tells the story of Ally, a young girl who sees the world through mind movies and colourful pictures but whose struggles with reading has become a self-defining feature in her life. Until she meets Mr Daniels…THAT inspired, enthusiastic, caring and supportive teacher whose input helps to unlock a world of possibilities against a backdrop of impossibilities and labels. Along the way, Ally discovers that her dyslexia is not something to be ashamed of and that in fact, it makes her smarter. Having to work that much harder to achieve what comes relatively easier to most, Ally gains a profound confidence and develops an inspiring resilience that earns her the respect and admiration of so many around her. In Mr Daniel’s words, she learns to have “GRIT”. It is a heart warming story of a young girl’s journey from self-doubt to self-acceptance, from struggle to triumph and from invisible to INVINCIBLE!
Ironically, I was given this book by a young girl in my class last year, a girl who in so many ways reminds me of Ally. She had given it to me with a card that read “Dear Mrs Kirk, this book is about an amazing teacher, and I think that you are an amazing teacher”. Touched by her heartfelt words, I thanked her for the book and promised to give it a read. Little did I know that what I would get out of it as a teacher would leave a lasting imprint on my heart and a window into the world of what is like for so many of the kids the teach. Feeling like an outsider looking in, a wave of responsibility washed over me as I found myself drawn to the relationship between Ally and Mr Daniels. A relationship built on a genuine desire to make a difference and a genuine response to want be helped. The power of words became a resounding theme throughout as I was reminded of just how much of an impact our words as teachers can have on the impressionable young hearts who fill the seats of our classrooms.
The book is just filled with nuggets of wisdom on every page, one of which really got me thinking;
“And I think of words. The power they have. How they can be moved around like a wand – sometimes for good, like how Mr Daniels uses them. How he makes kids like me and Oliver feel better about ourselves. And how words can also be used for bad. To hurt. My Grandpa used to say to be careful with eggs and words, because they can never be fixed. The older I get, the more I realize how smart my grandpa was.” – Ally
Everyday, we have the power to inspire or to deter, to build up or to break down, to show interest or turn a blind eye, to define an identity or to encourage self-definition. Ally’s journey to self-acceptance was not once defined by the pressure to fit in but rather the encouragement to stand out. As teachers and parents, this will in all likelihood mean that we need to learn to loosen the reigns and allow our children to colour outside of the lines and to seek alternative means of unlocking potential. Not every great mind thinks alike, so why force it to?