What Matters to You? An Exploration into #BeingtheChange

“I brought this because my mother bought it for me before she picked me up…”

“I brought this because my brother sent it to me…”

“I brought this because it represents who I am…”

My student holds up a small stuffed toy, the rest of the class sits in a circle in silence, and then a few ask questions.

The next child shares their object, and the experience replicates itself.  Silent listening, thoughtful questions, and a newfound knowledge of who we are and what we are.

For the past few weeks, we have been working our way through experiences inspired by Sara K. Ahmed’s new book, Being the Change.  A book that I knew the minute I read it would be a game changer for me.  And I was right.  The book inspired me to throw out my entire 4th quarter plans and revamp them with a focus on self-exploration, discovery, and social comprehension.

The book inspired me to add more student discussion, more time for reflection, more quiet, more time, deeper experiences.

We started with an exploration of the identity webs we created at the beginning of the year.  What can we add now?  Have we changed this year?  We discussed what identity means, how it shapes our experiences.

The focus naturally shifted then to our names.  I asked students to discover the story of their name or of someone else’s name.  I let those at home know to share the stories.  I shared my own name story, opened up and shared what it meant to only be named by my mother because my father didn’t really have a stake in my name, nor me as he decided that he couldn’t be at my birth because of a meeting.

The questions followed and I answered as best as I could, modeling my own trust in the community we have created, the vulnerability it sometimes takes to open up to others when you are not quite sure what they will do with the information.

We spent a lot of time talking, asking questions, and writing in our identity journal.  A low-key journal where students are asked to share their thoughts on what they are learning about themselves and others.  Quick lessons turned into several days, savoring the pace with which it unfolded in front of us.  Giving the proper time it deserves.

We moved into picture books, diving into amazing stories of others who decided to make an impact on the world.  Students read, inferred and wondered what led someone to take a risk and try to change the world.  I asked the students if they could connect with the person they wrote about.  And they did, not so much in the large feat the book was focused on, but on the everyday resilience, on the goals, on the motivation, the decision to be courageous.

And then I asked them where they were from.  Not just location, but what shapes them as a person.  What smells remind them of whatever home may be.  Which words, objects, moments frozen in time.  I shared my own life once more, opening up for questions and then stepped out of the way, having the students slowly unpack what the question even meant. They reflected, shared, and opened up.

And then I asked them to bring in an object that represented them somehow.  Something that mattered to them.  A 7th-grade show-and-tell but with meaning.  Some forgot, but those that remembered showed parts of themselves that perhaps others hadn’t seen.  It was meant to be a reminder of how to listen actively, a reminder of how to ask thoughtful questions, and yet it became so much more.

An unveiling of small parts that perhaps others hadn’t seen.

A deep sense of appreciation for taking the chance and sharing.

A stillness in our classroom as some kids chose to share deeply personal items, while their peers took it all in.

As a visitor observed yesterday, I can’t believe what they shared, and I agreed.  These kids with their hearts.  These kids with their stories.  These kids with their sometimes bravado laid it out there for all to see.  I am so grateful.  I am so proud.

As we move forward in this exploration of the issues that surround us in our world, I am so thankful for the inspiration for the book.  For the ideas to push us toward a closer understanding to who we are and how we see the world.  For how our very identity shapes the worldview we carry with us.  Sometimes all we need is a little inspiration.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

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When I Realized I Would Be OK…

I ask her if she has anything else she wants to share.

The student-led conference is almost over.  Ups and downs have been highlighted.  She has discussed how she has grown, the choices she has made, how she is ready for the challenge of the next year.  I couldn’t be prouder, she is right, she is ready.

She clears her throat, says, “Yes, I want to share my highlight of the year…” pulls up the page to show her mom and then begins.

“My highlight of the year is when I realized I would be ok…

When I realized that all of the work I had put in would pay off, when I realized that I was smart, that this would be a good year.  That the way others saw me was for me to decide.  That last year which wasn’t so great, was not this year but that this year would be good.”

She continues on, and as I listen I get teary-eyed, I cannot help but think that perhaps we all need to have this realization.

That we will be okay.

That the past is truly in the past.  That we decide how the present will be.  That we screw up, that we make mistakes, but that we can fix it, that we can be better.

That sometimes others view us in a way we don’t want.

That sometimes we surround ourselves with negativity.

That sometimes we are the negativity.

That sometimes we make these decisions that affect us for a long time, but that there always, always is a way out.

And that sometimes, we are the reason a kid started to see themselves this way.

That we, as educators, hold so much power over how these kids feel within our classrooms, that if we do not feel okay, it will be hard for our students to.  That if we only see our student through one lens, whatever we may be, we miss the whole kid.  That we all need to help kids that they will be ok.

So may we all have the realization that we will be ok.

That we are enough.

That we are smart.

That we are kind.

That what we have done is worth it.  Is worth us.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

 

I Hate Your Class

She tells me that she hates my class.  She hates coming.  She hates what we are doing.  Waits for my reaction, after all, aren’t those fighting words?  I take a breath, quell my shame, and ask, “How can I help?  What can I do?”

Nothing, she says, and she looks away.  This conversation is over.

I carry the words with me wherever I go.  I am the teacher that a child hates to have.  I am a teacher whose class a child hates.

It happens to all of us and yet we feel like, surely, we must be the only ones who have ever been told just how awful we are.  Just how miserable we make coming to school, just how we make this child feel.  In the past, a long time ago, I would have gotten mad.  Angry at the words.  How dare you and do you know what I do to make this class great?  Don’t you know just how much I care?  Don’t you see all of the kids smiling, having fun, investing in our class?  Don’t you hear their declaration of love?

Surely it cannot be me but you that is the problem…

Now I know that the words are not meant to hurt, but instead, inform.  To help us realize that what we are doing at the moment is not what this child needs.  That their lens of our classroom needs to change, that somehow, somewhere our connection has been dulled or frazzled and that it is in our power to now do something about it.

Because that’s what those words are; an invitation to repair.  To have a deeper conversation.  To say, what can I do instead of what have you done?  To reflect on our actions, on our interactions, and question how we are part of the problem before we get to the solution.  It starts with us, and it starts with asking, after all, not every child will have the courage to say it straight to your face.

So on Monday, take a moment to ask your students or even your teachers, do you like our classroom, do you like our school, do you think I like you?  Ask them to trust you with their truths and put their names on the answer.

Take a deep breath before you read the answers.

Don’t get angry, get quiet instead, think for a moment and then approach the kids, or the adults, and thank them for their honesty.  For their truth.  Then ask, how can we make it better?  How can we change this?

Because we cannot change what we don’t know.

I am the teacher that a child hates to have.  I am a teacher whose class a child hates.  But it is not all I am.  It is not all I have to be. If only I have the courage to ask.  I can change that, we all can.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

A Way Out

 

The poster hung above our sink, one of the most prominent spots in our classroom.  Every time my 4th graders washed their hands, they would see exactly what was expected of them, what the consequences were if they messed up.  Screw up and you get your name on the board.  Screw up again and you place a checkmark next to your name.  Screw up again?  Phone call home in the middle of class.  Clear, consistent and fair consequences, or so I thought.

I wish I could tell you that I saw the errors of my ways quickly.  That some sense was talked into me before I implemented it.  I can’t.  That poster and that system hung on that wall for more than a year, bearing witness to all of the kids who marched right up to the front of their room, dictated by my call of “Write your name on the board!”

I wish I would have known better.  I wish the students would have protested.  I wish the parents would have questioned.  I wish and yet, how often do our decision, whether poor or not, truly get questioned by those they affect?  How often do the very people we are supposed to serve actually dare to question our authority?

It is easy to cringe at a public display of discipline like that.  Of how I used public shame as a tool for compliance.  Of how I wielded my discipline system as a way to control and not to teach.  It is easy to look at others’ mistakes and forget the mistakes we have made ourselves, without questioning the practices we may have put in place now that perhaps aren’t quite as public, aren’t quite as harsh., but still serve as a visible reminder to kids of what will happen when they do screw up, because, let’s face it, all kids will at some point.

How often do we make a final decision because we think it is in the best interest of the child without actually thinking of the child?

How often do we set up rules so that all kids can be treated the same, somehow forgetting that all kids are, indeed, different?

How often do we stand so firm in our beliefs that we forget that part of growing up is screwing up and that is how we grow?

How often do we create rigid rules because we believe that it is in the best interest of the children when in reality they were really in the best interest of the adults?

A colleague reminded me today that there’s always gotta be a way out.   A way for all kids to actually succeed, to have some room, to still be a part.  To feel like even if they didn’t quite get there, there was still success in the steps they did make.  To feel like while they may not have fully succeeded, there was still progress nonetheless.

There’s gotta be a path forward even when we are exasperated.  Even when we feel we have tried everything.  Even when we think that there is nothing else that can possibly get done.

And while, sure, all kids need deadlines and consequences, at what times do we set them so hard into stone that they become unattainable for the most vulnerable students, for those who consistently find limited success within our schools?  Do we in our eagerness to be fair and balanced forget what that really looks like in the shape of each child?

Don’t forget about the way out.  About taking a step back and re-evaluating.  About keeping kids in mind.  About being a helper.  Being a believer.  Being someone who was willing to reevaluate just to make sure that we tried everything.  Because I would rather go home feeling I tried than knowing I stood firm at all costs, because at what cost do we really move forward?

A way out for all, a way in for all, so that we all can find success, somehow.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

You Asked For…

Perhaps it is because we woke up to yet more snow on Monday.

Perhaps it is because summer still seems so far away.

Perhaps it is because of too many late nights.

Too little sleep.

State testing.

Friendship drama.

Or simply because 8th grade looms and some kids are not quite sure what that means.

Whatever the reason, this week has been a long one and it is only Tuesday.

From students who are in a state of distress due to things outside of their circumstances.

To friendships cracking, breakups and misunderstandings.

To simply getting to work becoming harder and harder.

To taking more time to settle in.

To more redirections.  More jokes needed to get a smile.  More energy to get a response.

It is hard.  It is draining.  It makes me question why I seem to all of a sudden have lost whatever momentum we had and how can I get it back.  And do they even know how hard I try?  Because, man, I try, every single day to make it an experience worth their time.

Tonight as I pondered how I can help make it better for all of them, it finally dawned on me; they have little to no idea of what I have changed in order to help them.  Why should they?  I have never shared it.  I can hope that they pick up on it, but I wonder if they do, after all, they still have to go to school, they still have to work, and they still have to learn.

So as I pulled up their most recent feedback on our class, I recognized all of the changes made based on their words and then made a few slides.  A few visuals for them to see.  They simply started with, “You asked for….” and then I filled int heir feedback and then I followed it up with “You got/had…”

You asked for fewer projects, you had only two major projects last quarter.

You asked for less teacher talk, you got lessons that last less than ten minutes.

You asked for more choice in who you work with, you got some degree of choice every single time.

You asked for more choice in projects, you got more than twenty just in the last one.

Two slides filled with many requests all granted; more work time, less homework, less teacher talk, more choice, more freedom, less paper writing and such all filled the slides.

Tomorrow we start the day with a celebration of growth, of freedom, and perhaps even a reminder of just how much they have.  Not to elicit guilt but instead build awareness os that we can continue to capitalize on the community we have.  On the trust, we have built.  On the level of freedom, we may take for granted.

Perhaps we all just need a reminder of just how far we have come.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

One Week Into a Phone Free Classroom

We went phone free in our classroom five days ago.  Five days of no phones allowed.  Five days of fewer distractions.  Five days of being conscious of when we pull out a device, and when we purposely put it away.  Over spring break, I had sent the following email to students and parents letting them know of the decision, worried about the top-down approach I was taking with this decision.  And yet, I felt like we had to try something new and now was the time for the change.

I hope your spring break has been nice!  Just a heads up that we will be going phone free for most of the 4th quarter in both literacy studies and informational studies in our classroom, as well as independent reading.  Students will be asked to leave their phones in their lockers on in a basket on our shelf as they enter the room.

There are a few reasons I have made this decision:

  • While there will be times we will use our phones and with the accessibility of Chromebooks, there are very few times where students need to BYOD anymore.
  • Students are given little privacy or room for risk/failure in our classrooms as other students are quick to pull out their phones and snap pictures or videos to share on social media.  Often they are faster than we are or do it on the sly, this leads to less risk-taking, and a heightened sense of anxiety when it comes to actually doing the learning.
  • One article here discusses how even having it nearby versus out of the room lessens your thinking.
  • Another article here discusses how the constant stimuli from phones are rewiring our brains to constantly seek stimuli rather than dive into the “zone of learning” 
  • And another article discusses the shortened attention spans 

If messages need to be sent to your students during our class together, they can be sent through the office.

While I didn’t know what the response would be, I was pleasantly surprised to see just how many parents/guardians loved the idea, how many wish we would go phone free as a class, how many were in favor.  And yet, how would the students themselves react?

Well, it turns out many of them read the email and already were onboard when they came.  A few had questions, but most agreed that it was nice.  So the week went on, the phones disappeared and we dug into our new learning  I noticed there was less scrambling to get to work.  Less distractions from the few kids that would pull them out to check throughout the class.  My phone was in my bag as well, sure, there were less pictures shared of our learning but not having it around was really not a big deal.  Today I asked them what they thought of the policy.  Boy, was I surprised…

I think it’s fair because we don’t need them.

I like it because I don’t get distracted.

It is nice to not have to think about them.

It’s no big deal.

I am grateful for it because I no longer have to worry about being filmed and it shared on Instagram.

Sure, a few voiced their complaints telling me they didn’t like to be without them, these were also some of the kids that were distracted by their phones the most playing fortnite or snapchatting in class, while a few voiced that they didn’t really need the policy because they already left them in their lockers.

What struck me though was how many students were positive about the change.  How many were grateful for the policy because they then didn’t need to police themselves.  It makes sense in a way too as we see just how addicted we, adults, are to our smartphones.  When they aren’t allowed to be around we naturally use them less and yet have a hard time putting them away ourselves.

One comment that did stand out though was that a child didn’t like being without their phone in case something bad happened at school.  Let’s just have that sink in for a moment…  In an age of school shootings, schools are no longer viewed as safe by the very kids we teach and cell phones are seen as a way to find out when they need to run or hide.

So this first week of no phones, it turns out that perhaps going without was not that big of a deal, once again making me wonder what we really needed them for in the first place.  It has been nice to have this one less thing in our classroom.  To see the students focus on each other, rather than on what is happening on their phone.  To see them be more present if even for a little bit.

I’ll keep sharing as the quarter goes on, but I have a feeling that going phone free is here to stay.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.