On so many occasions, I’ve found myself greatly disappointed when viewing a film adaptation of a favourite book. For a variety of reasons; the suspense, the anticipation and the emotion do not always erupt from the screen with the same vigour that they do from the pages of the book and hence the author’s message is diluted or even lost.
So, it was with great apprehension that I decided to curl up on the couch this afternoon and watch “Wonder”, the film adaptation of R.J. Palacio’s best seller. I’ve read the book twice and have had many conversations with fellow educators and students about the powerful messages focusing on kindness, inclusivity and equity. At our school, when a student makes an error in judgement, we always lead with, “Were you kind?” vs. “What did you do?”
It became evident, within minutes of this movie, that the raw emotion intended for the reader was about to become a reality for the viewer. I found myself chocking back the tears as I watched Julia Roberts, in the role of Isabel ~ Auggie’s mom, struggle with the decision to send him to school. Just last week I had a conversation with one of our K educator teams, following our “Welcome to our World of Learning” night, where we invited families to come and share their child’s learning journey to date, and they shared that the number one question from families was, “Do they have friends?”. Isabel, just like the rest of us knew what was about to happen to Auggie as he walked through the halls and into his class for the first time. Oh how we wanted the rest of the students to be kind, caring and inclusive from the beginning ~ but the realism of the story took us, the viewers, on that journey along with Auggie and his family. We needed to live through all of the hurtful actions, averted eyes, unkind classmates and ignorant adults along with Auggie in order to truly appreciate his story. Throughout the journey, I was not always successful at choking back the tears and they freely flowed as each character’s story unfolded and we learned their lens on the shared experiences.
Although most of the time my heart was breaking for what Auggie and the other characters were going through, there were moments of immense pride as the educators portrayed in the story were doing all of the right things. Mr. Brown’s precepts were thought provoking, with a definite intentionality and he knew how to involve students without embarrassment or discomfort. As for the principal, Mr. Tushman, I cheered as he dealt with Julian’s parents. One of my favourite quotes was shared during that scene, “Auggie can’t change the way he looks. Maybe we can change the way we see”. It is such a simple, yet important message. We can ALL choose how we see situations, behaviours, others, etc.
My staff would be the first to share that I’ve provided examples of many alternative activities to engage in with students in order to avoid watching full length movies during the instructional day. This movie would be my one exception. I would love for all of our students to have a guided viewing of this movie. There are so many pivotal moments to stop the action and discuss how the characters are feeling; to encourage students to change the trajectory, to make a personal connection or to articulate the value of seeing the same storyline from different perspectives.
I can’t help but WONDER if more of our students can relate to Auggie than we know about.
One does not have to have a facial deformity to be a victim of unkindness and a school does not need to have a student with a physical deformity to appreciate the need to always be leading with kindness.
“When given the choice between being right or kind, choose kind”
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