“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.