Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Red Tree - Finding Hope Amid Tragedy

The Red Tree
On Thursday, we received the book, The Red Tree, from our partner class in Perth, Australia. The author and illustrator, Shaun Tan, is from Perth and I was very appreciative that Miss Korten (@Capt_KK) sent us this unique gift.
The book starts: "Sometimes the day begins with nothing to look forward to."

On the next several pages the author portrays dark and seemingly hopeless scenes. The illustrations are truly exquisite and most of the words are quite sad....

My 5th grade students and I had an incredibly honest discussion as we read the book. Some students admitted to feeling as though they have nothing to look forward to on weekdays (schooldays). Others admitted to feeling like the character on the weekends. I admitted that some days I have felt like the character in the book as well........Unfortunately, the feelings experienced by the main character were something that we all were able to relate to....

But the book ends with such a simple hopeful line:

"But suddenly there it is right in front of you bright and vivid quietly waiting
just as you imagined it would be."

We continued our great conversation focusing on what/who the 'red trees' are in our lives - the things right in front of us that we don't always focus on but if we open our eyes its beauty can fill us with hope and inspiration. Unsurprisingly, the students brought up each other, their friends, their family members, their pets, and teachers. Then we discussed who THEY are 'red trees' for. One student declared that he will be his dad's 'red tree' over the next several months as he tries to quit smoking. Another student said he was his friend's 'red tree' as he tries to be a light for him as his parents are getting divorced......

The book was excellent and I thanked Miss Korten for sending it to us.....then, Friday happened. On Friday morning, a tragedy struck our small town as a nine year old boy was senselessly murdered......As a teacher you're never really prepared to help students cope with tragedies, but whether we sign up for this part of our job or not, we must be there for the students.....As I started to think about all that's happened in just the past two weeks, an insane amount of tragedy began to flood my mind.....

We're all aware of the unspeakable devastation that Typhoon Haiyan caused to the helpless people in the Philippines and the tornado that struck the unfortunate citizens in Washington, IL and surrounding communities. Getting closer to home, there has been a tragic rash of teen suicides in my regional community, unfortunate house fires and deadly car accidents that have affected so many...... At this point I'm sure you could add in your own tragic situations that have affected your school or local community.....

As my students and I discussed the situation on Friday, one student brought up the message of The Red Tree. Like the book, unfortunately we are surrounded by situations that are depressing and downright unexplainable. But hopefully in some way we can see hope that can result from these tragedies. We discussed ways that we could be there for our classmates and offer solace to those affected by such tragedy......We started brainstorming how we could act - how we could channel our emotions into something good. I informed the students of a 'Backpack Drive" that a retired teacher in our district started. She has asked for each homeroom to donate a backpack full of supplies to send to students in Washington, IL. Many students were eager to donate supplies, toys and even backpacks to those in need....

Here are some other stories that shed a positive light on some of the unspeakable situations that have recently occurred:

Millburn, NJ students to Help Typhoon Haiyan Victims

Liberty High School Students Head to Washington, IL for Relief Efforts

Students to Help Victims of Tornadoes

Rival Helps Level Playing Field for Tornado-Shattered Team  (Washington, IL)

If you have other positive stories that resulted from tragic situations, please share your story in the comments....

To Hug or Not To Hug - That Was The Question:
On Friday, I was reminded of an interview question from my very first interview out of college. I was asked:  Would you ever hug your students? I wanted/needed a job like all recent graduates do and hesitated answering this question. I was afraid to say "Yes" for fear that it may be the wrong answer. But, I said "Yes" anyway. I told the principal that I hope to build a close relationship with each student I teach and that if the situation warrants a hug, I won't hesitate.....I didn't get the job and I'm not sure if my answer was the cause of it or not.....

Everyday as my students leave my classroom, I stand at my door and give them a 'fist bump." On Friday, I gave many of them hugs and I'm sure I will tomorrow. I felt like the situation warranted a loving touch when tragedy strikes students all too young.

So, tomorrow, don't wait for tragedy to strike close to home: Take a moment to tell your students how much they mean to you, hug them if the situation warrants a hug.....and most importantly do all you can to be a "red tree" in their life!


  1. I have to get a hold of this book somehow! How timely that your partner class shared it with you right now. I admire how you can use tragedy to inspire hope and caring. Way to go, Ms. Kress! I am glad to be connected to you and your kids and school are certainly lucky to have you. Prayers and hugs to you and your lovely students!

  2. Thank you for sharing this story, Arin! Your students are lucky to have you and the experiences you have given them!

  3. Jenn and Oliver- Thank you for your comments. Your school communities are lucky to have you as well! So glad we have connected.