I am spent. Exhausted and drained as I type this. My mind is swirling with thoughts that I cannot quite get a grasp on and yet, I feel compelled to share some words with the world. My students started sharing their This I Believe speeches today, a project I was told would be powerful but that I had never done before. I threw my faith into it, dedicated the last 3 weeks to write with them, borrowed ideas from amazing teachers like Brianna Crowley and held my breath just a little; would they really get what this assignment was about? Would they believe in something bigger than them?
When I read their rough drafts I had to take a break. Hurriedly written were stories of unexpected death, racism, bullying, and other anguishes that you don’t think any child, let alone a 7th grader should experience. It took me three days to read through them, not because it was hard work, but because it was hard. Hard to read their words and know that these are not just their stories, but their lives. And so I knew I had to protect those stories, not share them with the world like we so often do. That these stories belonged to us and no one else. Which surprised me a little bit as I have always been an advocate for students sharing their stories to change the world.
Yet, more than a month ago, Rafranz Davis got me thinking about the things we share from our classrooms. How we often share student work with their permission, but sometimes do not think of the larger consequences of sharing it. How we view the internet as a vast land where no one will know the students whose work we magnify, and yet, this isn’t true. We share and our students see us sharing. We ask for permission from parents in blanket forms and they give it to us because they trust we will use their child’s work in a trustworthy way. Yet, we sometimes share without thinking of how a child may be recognized in the work, or how something we don’t give importance can harm a family. We simply don’t know what the unintended consequences may be when we let the world in.
Today, the stories intertwined with their beliefs came from shaky hands and downward glances. Yes, this was a speech assignment but the hush at the end of each speech proved just how powerful silence could be. These kids with their heartbreak. These kids with their dreams. Who had decided to give us the ultimate gift; their words. Whose dedication to the community we have built this year told them it was safe for them to share. Who believed in us and in this assignment and allowed others to see a side of them they don’t always show. I have to protect that.
Sometimes the most amazing experiences we have with our students are those that no one but us know about. Those that no one would be able to be a part of because they are not part of our community. I asked my students to go as deep with this assignment as they were comfortable with, and their journey today showed me just how much trust we have built. I wish I could share it. I wish others could have been here to witness the courage of my students, to see the emotional reactions from their peers, but they couldn’t. And they won’t. And I am grateful because today happened and the rest of the world will just have to take my word on it.
So stop and think before you share your students work. Think before you post. Did the child mean for the whole world to see it or just for you? Who did they write it for? Would their parents or guardians want the whole world or even just the school to know? If you are not sure, stop, don’t, there will be other things for the world to see.
I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark, who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press. Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.