Prepare To Take The Helm: Building Community Together

Posted on May 10, 2013 by

Helm (PSF)

Helm (PSF) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s funny how life circles itself around you sometimes, isn’t it?

This morning my freshman AVID students discussed the quote, “A community is like a ship. Everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm.” It was one of those inspirational quotes printed in their daily calendar, meant to encourage critical thinking.

As usual in my classroom, things didn’t quite go as I expected. In small groups, I asked them to talk about what they thought the quote meant, and how they could apply it to their AVID experience or their life in general.

First, I heard several kids asking what ‘helm’ meant. Didn’t expect that one.

“It’s something you wear on your head,” I overheard one boy explain. “Like helmet.”

Well, not exactly. I do like that he’s looking at the word, though.

“I think it’s the front of a ship,” said another.

“No, it’s being in charge,” a few responded.

Now we’re on the right track. Something the person in charge wears on their head on the front of a ship. Sigh.

When we came back together, they began to share. Eventually, we talked about why it would be important to be ready to take charge, or to be prepared to step up. We talked about how communities need to have leaders, but that everyone needs to feel heard and be able to contribute.

I felt good as they went into their tutorial groups, and noticed a spark of understanding in their eyes. Their discussions were animated and thoughtful; it really seemed like they have learned to depend on each other for support.

Less than an hour later, the true meaning of the quote as it applied to my life became visible.

One of the absolute benefits of my job is my colleagues. Teaching isn’t an easy job, and teaching middle school definitely isn’t for the faint hearted. The constant rollercoaster of being around hundreds of teens experiencing puberty can send the toughest personalities over the edge at times.

That’s exactly what happened today. Someone hit their tipping point and came to me for support, lips quivering, eyes welling with tears.

Without hesitation, I listened. I empathized; I knew precisely the complete overwhelm they were experiencing. I felt the anxiety, the vulnerability, and the fear.

I took the helm. I did what I knew how to do. I tried to envelop them with safety, trust, and a sense of importance. I got help, and took action.

I actually didn’t think twice about it, and then I went back to my day.

Hours later, after the kids left for the day, they thanked me. Their message of relief, trust and belonging broadcast clearly how much my actions mattered.


Photo credit: planeta

And when they breathed their sigh of relief, spoke their words of gratitude, and expressed their sense of belonging, I knew. Really, it’s the reason I’ve stayed there as long as I have. It’s the people, the relationships, the community.

We realize that we don’t always have to be the one steering the ship; our shipmates are right alongside, ready to step up. They help us avoid the icebergs, clean up after a storm, and sing when our spirits need a lift. They are always ready to take the helm.

It’s funny how life circles around itself like that sometimes, isn’t it?

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Comments: 4

  • Kathy Radigan

    May 10, 2013

    I love this post!!! This was just what I needed to read today. I really related to your experience of “taking the Helm” because you now know how to do that, and then how you stepped right back to your routine. I don’t know when it actually happened but somewhere in my life I started to take the Helm naturally, without being nervous or even thinking about it.

    I love your writing! Thanks!

    • Jennifer Wolfe

      May 10, 2013

      Hi Kathy, and thank you! I love it when I feel like I can just step right into something that’s a natural fit…there’s plenty of times in my life right now where I feel like I’m pushing my comfort zone, pushing for something new, that doesn’t feel as natural. I know that if I step back and look at the bigger picture or deeper purpose, though, I usually find an answer.

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