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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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.

 

Hold Your Tongue

He sits with his head slumped down.  Again.  Nothing in front of him.  Again.  Eyes are closed.   Again.  Arms crossed as he lays his head on the table.  Again.

To a person walking by he looks like he is asleep.

To me, he looks like he is mad.  Actively fighting me and what we are doing.  Again….

But I wait…ask him again if he is okay.  If he needs anything.

He doesn’t answer.

My patience runs thin, after all I have a class to get to.  To teach.  Why can’t he just answer?  I am trying to help after all.  Again.

He can tell probably that my answers are getting shorter.  Less calm in my voice.  And yet, he continues to refuse.  Tells me it’s not worth his time.  That he doesn’t want to do it.  Looks for the holes in my teacher armor and shoots to kill with every word he can think of.

I take it in, knowing now is not the time to fight, and yet it is so hard until I remember to walk away.

To hold my tongue and give some space.  To not guess at what is happening and draw the wrong conclusions, but instead just give time.  Not to try to solve.  Not to try to fix.  Not try to be right there actively problem-solving, trying to get to the bottom of it all.  Instead walking away before I forget what every kid needs; a shoulder, an ear, some time, some space.

And even though every ounce of my teacher mind tells me to come back to him, to try to fix it, to try again, I stay away.  I just watch, take no action, and wait…

And so five minutes later or perhaps even ten, I see his head is up.  He is reading, sort of, he is kind of working.  No longer shut down, but at least alert.  Is it perfect?  Nope.  Is it enough? Nope.  Is it a breakthrough?  Nope, not really, but it is a start, and sometimes that is all we need.

Tomorrow we try again, not stuck in a power struggle, but at least in a place of truce.  In a place where we can both exist and hopefully move an inch further forward toward something that looks like learning, like trust.

Once again, I am reminded of how powerful silence and space can be.  Especially when they expect us to do neither.  Again.

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 More Time for the People in the Back

I don’t think that I can yell any louder.

How many times that I have repeated myself on this blog.

How many times I have repeated the voices of those who speak the words loudly, of those who spoke the words long before I ever did.

I don’t think I can say it in other ways than I have, but I suppose one more time for good measure.  For the people in the back of the room, or for those who just showed up.

If we want to help kids like reading we need to surround them with books.

If we want to help kids like reading we need to give them time to actually read.

If we want to help kids like reading we need to create a community of readers.

If we want to help kids like reading we need to help them develop their reader identity.

We need to help them go beyond our help.

We need to help them go beyond their level.

Their Lexile.

Their data.

The computer program that tells them what they can do or not do as a reader.

We need them to see worth in what they are doing and worth in who reading helps them become.

We need to help them see that reading matters beyond the journal entry, beyond the project, beyond the thing we just made them do to prove that they are actually reading.

We need to speak books.

To share books.

To have books that show them who they are and also what others are.

To celebrate books and all types of reading so that within our classrooms and schools every child can see themselves as a kid who reads. As a kid whose reading matters.  As a kid who doesn’t read “easy” books, who doesn’t cheat in reading when they listen to audio books.  As a kid who might not just be a reader someday, completely dismissing that they are, indeed, already a reader.

And not just in their own eyes but in our eyes as well.

So I suppose I can say it one more time; what we do with the reading we do matters.

What we don’t do with the reading we do matters.

The identities we help create matter.

And the words our students share about what is killing their love of reading matters.  the least we can do is listen to them.

And we must bring back common sense reading practices to protect the very kids whose reading lives we were told to nurture, to protect, and to grow.

Perhaps you will join in the yelling and the powers that may be will one day hear us.

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.

Ideas for Helping Students Raise their Voice

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My mother raised me to raise my voice.  She raised me to believe that my voice mattered.  That speaking up when I saw injustice was a part of my civic duty.  To not take my position of power within my white privilege for granted but to recognize it and share it with others.

My teachers taught me I was different.

That I was too loud.  Too opinionated.  Too much.

That I was the bad child to be avoided.

That I needed to learn how to tone it down.

Lower my voice.

Speak less.

Let others speak before I added my voice.

If it wasn’t for my mother’s insistence that my voice mattered, I would have been a silent child.

A silent adult.

As I see students speak up in the aftermath of yet another horrific school shooting, I cannot help but be proud.  This is why I teach the way I do.  This is why I believe that what we do matters.

When we create learning communities that thrive on discussion.  That thrives on student voice.  That tell those we teach to speak up rather than to stay silent, this is when we are truly changing the future of this world.

So what can we as teachers do to encourage student voice?  How can we make sure the very children we teach know that their voice is needed for a better future?

Let them speak.

While it sounds so simple for many of us, it is not.  Afterall, faced with curriculum deadlines, content standards, and all of the things we need to do, there are times that we forget that teaching is not meant to be a performance of one, but a chorus of many.  In fact, research indicates that teachers speak more than 60-75 % of the time.  That leaves very little time for those we teach to find their own voice.  So monitor your own.  Ask a question and step back or better yet, ask the students to ask the questions and guide them along the way.  This doesn’t start as they get older, this starts as they enter school.

 

Teach them to question.

Questioning is one of the single most powerful skills we can pass on to students.  And yes that also means questioning us.  Provide opportunities for them to question what they see, let them know that they should be questioning what they are learning, and show them through example that it is fine to question you, the authority in the room.  I would rather have students who dare to speak than those who remain silent.  We discuss how to question authority with respect, but also that you should fight for what you believe in.

Make room for debate.

I know it is scary at times to be a teacher in a heated political climate, at times, I feel like whatever I say feels like a loaded question, and yet, we must find ways to bring hard topics into our classrooms and then step aside.  I tell my students that I am not here to shape their opinion, I am here to give them an opportunity to shape their own.  They know our discussions are not about what I want them to believe but instead about them coming up with something to believe in and then fact-checking it.  It is not enough to have an opinion, you must realize where it stems from.

Ask, “Now what?”

My wise friend, Dana Stachowiak, taught me to always ask, “Now what?” when I believe in something.  She reminds me that forming an opinion is not the point, but doing something about it and continuing to question is.  So when students write persuasive essays, when students discuss, when students uncover new information, ask them, “Now what?”  What do you plan on doing with the information?  What else do you need to learn? What can you do with this belief that you have?

Show them change.

I survey my students throughout the year about how I can be a better teacher.  It is one of the best things I do.  And yes, there are criticisms every single time I read the surveys, things I could do better.  Things they would like to see me improve.  And so I try when I can and we discuss the changes needed for the experience to be better for all of us, me included.  When students see an adult, who does not have to listen to their voice because let’s face it nothing says we have to, actually listen to them and implement change because of them, they see the power of having a voice in the first place.  This is vital for them to believe that they can be changemakers.

Support don’t punish.

I have been appalled at the districts that are telling students they will be suspended if they protest.  Have we forgotten that this very nation was founded on the notion of protest and speaking up when we saw a wrong?  Why we would tell students, who we teach about inequality, about courage, about sacrifice, that they cannot exercise their right to free speech, blows my mind.  So instead of saying no, find a way to support.  Show them where they can go to protest, show them how to do it safely.  Step up as leaders of this future generation rather than the oppressive older generation, a cliché that has been held on to for too many years.

Create deeper learning opportunities for all.

Last weekend, I had the amazing opportunity to read the final draft of Sara Ahmed’s book Being the Change, a book being released on March 29th by Heinemann.  Sara’s book ignited my already present fire to create further opportunities for students to dissect their own identity, to push their own knowledge boundaries, and find a way to bring the world in as part of our curriculum.  This book is a game changer and provides a blueprint for us to do more with what we already do.  Centering on student identity and not the teacher’s this book gives us the needed tools to create classrooms that are focused on social comprehension without dictating a political path.  I am thankful that this book will be out in the world soon for all of us.

Don’t forget our purpose.

Education is to better our world, not to create better test takers.  Education is to create a new generation of literate adults who question the world around them, who uncover information, who seek to right the wrongs of this world.  To help children become complex thinkers and problem solvers, who strive to make this world a better place not just for themselves but for a society as a whole.  That is not a political sentiment, but a humanitarian one.  We must continue to do better.  We are teachers of the children who will write the history of this world, so what type of history would we like them to create?  One that echoes the dystopian novels that sit in our classrooms, or one that continues to focus on better for all?

For the past weeks, my students have looked to me and the other adults in our building for answers more than ever before.  I have been asked how I will keep them safe, what our plan is in case the unthinkable happens, how I feel about what is going on in the world.  I have done the best I can to share my own thoughts without scaring them, without forcing my opinion on them.  And yet, I keep thinking about all of the things we already do; how our job as educators was never to be the sole voice in the classroom, but instead to help our students raise theirs.  So how do I plan on keeping them safe, by making sure that they know they can change the world.

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.

 

 

 

Debate Boxing – A Way to Get Kids Thinking Fast

December is a fun month to teach if you know how to use the inevitable energy that the students bring in.  While I may long for my fireplace and a good book, my students are eagerly awaiting snow, break, and perhaps even Christmas.  To say that our classroom is loud in the afternoon is an understatement.  Knowing the energy level of the kids, my smart colleague Reidun, therefore, proposed doing debate during the month of December, and boy was she right.  The energy is infectious, the kids are committed, and the engagement is high.

While the students have successfully completed their practice unit, we are now gearing up for the big one; the summative debate where they must find their own articles, research reliability and also try to prep for whatever their opposing team will throw at them.  This is why thinking on their feet is so important, as well as being able to listen to what is actually being said and then formulating a response.

Enter debate boxing.  Not my idea, nor the idea of my colleague, but definitely an idea that needs to be shared (If you know where it came from please let me know so I can link it!).

The concept is simple:

Pick something for the students to debate.  We used this podcast from NPR’s More Perfect because it does not give a black and white answer.  We use the podcast to discuss how our perspective changes as we uncover more facts.  This took us about two days as the students took notes throughout and we stopped and discussed.

Then, using their notes, have students draft an opening statement.  I only gave them ten minutes to do so, because I don’t want them to get hung up on this.  They know they need to have an opinion, evidence for it as well as explain why their evidence proves their claim.

Then, split the class into two teams based on their opinion.  Have each team select a team member to start off their match.

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Either, create a ring in your classroom or have the two students debating stand on a table or a chair.  Either way; have where they are stand out.  Then with their notes in hand, one team reads their opening statement.  Their opponent then gets 45 seconds to give their rebuttals based on what they heard and what they know and off they go.  The rebuttals go back and forth at a fast pace.

At any point, the member can “tap out” and have someone else take over or we also said that the team can switch them out.

After a few minutes, the round is over, the team members both switch and the other team reads their opening statement.

You can go for as long as the kids have something valuable to say.

For a twist toward the end, I had the teams switch opinions and argue opposite of what they had.  This was amazing as they had gotten rather intense about their opinion and now had to debate for the opposing claim.

Today we debrief, we discuss what they learned from the experience, and also why thinking on your feet and listening is so vital when we discuss.  While our classroom may have been loud yesterday and just a tad bit crazy, it was the best kind of crazy there is.