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  • Liz Gardner

Now the Snow Sparkles


People often ask me what I do with my students, what my work entails. It's complicated, ha. My work covers a lot of things, a span of lifetimes. I work with kids of all ages and their parents, too, of course, as well as individual adults, particularly those navigating transitions or just wanting to start unearthing and cultivating more authenticity and presence for themselves. I also do some FlipSwitch consulting with small businesses and organizations who are trying to get clear on their messaging, on who they are, and on optimizing their flight plan during such uncertain times. So there's a range — but also a foundational approach and philosophy that brings my work together into a shared space. My work with students takes center stage, however, and there's a lot to it — so much that I often have a hard time explaining my work to others.


There's the homeschooling support, writing/notebooking workshops, and Thrive coaching; there's the College Ready support, with all the accoutrements — guiding them through test prep, minimizing overwhelm, and helping them get and stay organized and on track, develop and fine-tune their college lists, and activities, essay and supplements for the Common App, meet deadlines, and then follow up and make strong decisions after submission. There's the academic coaching and subject-specific tutoring, helping students cultivate the growth mindset and shore up their executive function and study skills, so they can better understand themselves as learners, tap into brain science and the Great Wisdom, customize strategies, and take ownerships over their learning process; there's the coaching and encouragement to cultivate voice, authenticity, and self-advocacy, the ongoing help to build a strong tool box to better navigate this fast-changing world.


Any session might find me teaching the difference between using the preterito and imperfecto in Spanish, giving a lesson on the use of em dashes and semi-colons, going over feedback in a virtual back-and-forth workshopping of an APUSH paper, sharing tips on finding that crystalline moment in a haiku — or resources for making better sense of a lesson on derivatives. We map, outline, timeline, write, edit, talk, watch, listen together, exchange feedback, ideas, stories. There's a whole lot of improv at work. Sometimes I have to go way back into my archives; sometimes it just presents itself. There's a whole lot of learning alongside my students, which benefits us both, as it should, right?


There's also the getting to know them and helping them know themselves, the listening to them as they vent, the asking questions, worrying about them, and encouraging them to rework their rhythms to support their own well being first and foremost, the holding up that mirror so they can hear, see, know themselves better, build comfort, acceptance, and love for who they are and becoming — so they can shine. I share, too, parts of my own journey with them as we go, to remind them — and me — that I, too, am a student, a lifelong learner, a beginner — still becoming, still journeying, still learning. We are in many ways in this together.


I learn so much from my students. Mostly, I am reminded of our fragility — and our strength. How we depend on each other. How different we are, how similar too. How much we have to learn. Most particularly, though, I am reminded how each of us has our own unique way of seeing the world, determining what we notice, bring our awareness to, pay attention to. How we see brings our small details into focus, our very own particulars — the specific, concrete details and stories — that make up our world into view. This is the stuff that makes us unique, different, authentically us. It's what makes us beautiful — each and every one of us.


My work with students very much focuses on helping them pay attention to how they see the world, how they might make those small details their own, building on their strengths — and learning to accept who they are with greater compassion. To those asking about my work, I've often responded with this simple explanation:


I work with them to help them see and know themselves more clearly. The work we do together shows them who they are, and helps them find, see, and appreciate, the absolute gem within — and all the ways they shine. I get to help pull it out and reflect it back to them:


"This is you."

"It is? That's me?"

"Yes."

"Wow."


I learn so much from my students. And I effin' love what I do. I am so lucky to be able to work with young people and witness so much spectacular growth — from the smaller moments of their unfolding, to the larger, more dramatic transformative experiences, all of which are so essential to the ongoing forces at work in the act — and art — of becoming. It is, indeed, a perpetual process, an endless journeying, through terrain that is often both uncharted and challenging. And my students, and young people in general, I'd argue, are intrepid, often fearless explorers. They have to be, especially now, with all the uncertainty that is mucking up their landscape. The work we do together helps guide and accompany them on this journey, giving shape and meaning to this process — to their stories, their identities, their direction — and helping them find their next, right steps. Guided exercises and supportive coaching sessions enables them to extend this safe space into their own day to day, where they can establish regular practices of solitude, reflection, and notebooking so they can build strong tool kits of interiority and self-awareness, enabling greater presence, confidence, and resilience. I also work with students to create practical systems and rhythms that support well being, balance — and the ongoing work of creating patterns of possibility in their lives. As students start to compose their days with more intention, they start to see themselves in clearer definition, and gain self-confidence, build synchronicity and belonging to themselves, which deepens self-acceptance and understanding, and ensures a more authentic engagement with making things happen for themselves. They come into rhythm with themselves. They start to shine.


Every day, every session, offers up something. A gift, a lesson, a reminder. Today, one of my students stood by his window looking outside for a few minutes, gathering impressions, images, which he then captured in his notebook, and then reworked into a beautiful haiku:


trees shrouding away

to let blue in and give light

now the snow sparkles


Oh how I love this! A lovely, crystalline moment — and so artfully rendered. A small moment — but the small moments often have the biggest shine to them.

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