We talk about big things in the lab.
Ginger died. Ginger was our beloved lab goldfish. Sure, she was a bit of a bully and ate all the friends we offered her, but we liked how she swam around, spit out rocks, and begged for food. We learned about the interdependence that existed between Ginger and the catfish — the only fish to avoid being eaten by her. Ginger was a bit of a messy fish, which granted, is tricky not to be when you have to go to the bathroom where you swim. But, her waste aided the growth of algae in the tank, and the catfish needed the algae to eat in order to live, and Ginger benefited from the catfish cleaning her tank.
But, now, Ginger had died. This meant we had many conversations about death and the simple yet sad truth that all living things do die. We handled the subject of death with great care, acknowledging that all living things, including our pets and ourselves, will one day die. We talked about the sadness that comes with death, and the importance of taking quiet moments, shedding tears, and sharing feelings.
As a rule, I do not shy away from topics and questions asked by our scientists, no matter how young they are. There is a trust that exists within the lab. I believe our students need to trust that the lab is safe enough for them to be vulnerable and ask any question. That trust develops when they are shown respect for their questions and answers, an understanding of why they ask their questions, and a willingness to help answer their questions as best as possible. In this type of atmosphere, if I take it upon myself to refuse questions, then the students begin to censor and silence themselves, doubting whether or not it is okay to speak.
Ginger may be gone, but she gave us one final and important lesson. I am proud that this lab is a safe zone for our students — as a place to safely explore the scientific curiosities and wonders of our world, but also a secure place to ask difficult questions about the big things and anticipate an honest answer.
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