“Mommy, What’s Rape?” (addressing those unexpected extracurriculars) #TeacherMom

As parents, we tend to expect that our kids will pick things up from classmates at school.

Like comparing who has seen what movie, who can afford some new gadget, who is allowed to have a phone, or even who knows what swear words.

But I never fathomed that rape might join the list of discussion points among first graders.

I stopped in my tracks and turned to face her, asking her where she had heard that term.

She told me that before school had gotten out a couple weeks ago, she heard another student dare a kid to rape a classmate.

She had also heard the word used by the Witch in a song in Into The Woods, so we added alliteration and non-literal word usage to our list of sophisticated topics of the day (thanks a lot, Stephen Sondheim).

Once I recovered from the initial shock that I was having this conversation with my 7 year-old, it wasn’t as difficult as I would have imagined (had I actually been able to anticipate that conversation to begin with, of course).

And I realized that there were some important lessons to be shared as both a teacher and a parent when it comes to these “unexpected extracurriculars:”

#1: Keep the communication channels wide open at all times. This advice shows up in the parenting books so often that there are probably readers out there rolling their eyes right now. But let’s get a little more specific with this.

Had my response to questions about sensitive subjects in the past been met with embarrassment or shame, I seriously doubt my daughter would have been willing to ask more.

We also needed time together when she felt comfortable striking up the conversation — for some parents, that’s in the form of a bedtime routine that includes specific questions like, “What made you feel happy today?” or “Was there anything that made you feel confused?”

#2: Build off your child’s existing schema. Part of me wondered, is now the time for the talk? But I knew I did not want her introduction to the topic to revolve around sex at its very worst.

So, instead, we built our discussion around concepts with which she was already familiar. In this case, I focused on the notion that we have always taught her that she is “the boss of her body” (meaning that no one has the right to touch her body without her permission). Thus, the information came across as a more natural next step in an ongoing discussion, rather than an onslaught of bombshell-style information she may not have been ready for when she asked her innocent question.

#3: Revisit the idea of safe adults.  This entire facet of our conversation reminded me just how complicated it can be to ask our children to talk to adults when someone says or does something that makes them feel uncomfortable. What if it’s a friend who says it? How do we know when we should just walk away, or when we should get help? How do we tell if what they are saying is actually threatening people’s safety? Who are the safe adults at school we should talk with?

These and other questions are essential and not nearly as straight-forward as we would hope. But as long as we keep it an ongoing discussion, we can hopefully increase the odds of our child learning to correctly discerning the answers.

As we become more aware of the unexpected lessons our kids and students face, we will be better equipped to help them navigate them. Please share ways you have approached these kinds of lessons with your kids at home and/or in the classroom.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

How Ownership Can Get Rid of “I Suck at…”

Think having students self-grade and reflect is fluff?

Think again.

Over the course of a 15 year study, John Hattie analyzed over 800 meta-studies to identify effects that have the strongest impact on learning (and he is constantly updating this list through continued studies). Self reported grades is almost at the top of the list of over 150 effects.

It beat out motivation. It beat out home environment. It even beat out “decreasing disruptive behavior.”

The truth is, students know a lot more about their own learning process than we so often give them credit for.

Which brings me to the issue at hand: When a student claims he/she “sucks at ___.”

When I hear that claim, I hear a student that has become convinced that their personal rate of learning is inferior to classmates. That because their progress has not looked identical to their peers, it must mean they are defective. That their learning is fixed, hopeless, and beyond theirs or anyone else’s reach.

Now, discouragement is normal for all learners from time to time. But when said discouragement is also rooted in learning that feels irrelevant or imposed, we’ve got problems.

Enter student ownership.

Any time we empower students with tools to take their learning in their own hands, we are giving them ownership.

Self-assessments are one such powerful tool.

Michael BondClegg recently wrote about giving students the opportunity to write their own report card comments, encouraging teachers to help students identify “ways in which learners can identify their strengths and areas for growth” and “plans for improving.”

This may seem trivial, but really, it turns the whole “I suck at” model on its head.

When a teacher fills out the comments, it perpetuates the whole “this is out of my hands” notion.

When a student is encouraged to fill out those comments in this way, it places the learning back in the students’ hands.

A student in diagnostics mode is student on her way toward a stronger growth mindset.

 

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

On the Brink of Boundaries/Sanity #TeacherMom

Back when I was studying to become a teacher, I remember the day my professor drew a highly technical drawing that looked something like this:

The topic of discussion was on boundaries. My professor explained that if we’re clear and firm on our boundaries, students will recognize the limits and stay safely inside; conversely, if students sense a weak spot in the “fence” they will all come along to test it out.

Seemed reasonable. I jotted a line in my notebook, adding it to my list of teacher preparation tips, and went on my merry way.

What it did not prepare me for was the magnitude of said “testing,” not with my students, and most certainly not with my three year-old son.

Take this morning for instance. He declared he didn’t want banana bread. His sister then asked for some banana bread. He then insisted that not only did he want banana bread, but made it clear that the world would end if he did not have banana bread.

Knowing his track record for eating only two bites, I told him that if I gave him some, he would have. to. eat. it. That he would get nothing else until he did so. He agreed.

And like a rookie, I fell for it. I gave him banana bread. Of which he took two bites. And then asked for something else.

Here was my chance to hold firm on my boundaries, and boy, did he test them.

He seemed to possess a finely tuned sense that my boundaries — and my sanity — were hanging on by the slimmest of threads. And the whole herd was rather methodically working away at that vulnerable place.

But that’s when more wisdom on boundaries returned to my memory, this time, from Brene Brown:

See, boundaries aren’t just about keeping the “herd” from wreaking havoc in every which direction. They are about compassion for ourselves and for those around us.

We are compassionate enough to ourselves to hold true to our values (ie, food waste and follow-through in the above story). And we are compassionate enough to others to be clear, direct, and kind so that we don’t end up harboring unseen resentment (ie, lingering frustration with my son and myself had I caved).

And so I held on. I worked to focus on those boundaries and my values I was working to preserve and instill, rather than the frustration that threatened to devolve the whole thing into a shouting match.

Fortunately, this particular story has a happy ending. We left the banana bread for a couple hours and when we came back, he was perfectly happy to eat it before getting a new snack.

Which just goes to show what a break can do for a battle of wills — and preservation of our boundaries and our sanity.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

 

Ode to a Newly Crawling Baby #TeacherMom

“We call the early years formative. What is firing the brain? It’s nothing less than a sense of self. How does it feel to be me? How does it feel to be human? That’s what’s forming. Our sense of self and our sense of the world.”

via Case Wade

I see your joy. You sit up with a straight back, surveying the world from a perspective you’ve never seen.

I see your deliberation. You make a bee-line for the dog bowls every time we set you down, already knowing that if you do so stealthily enough, you’ll find a prize.

I see your intensity. You move from room to room and object to object, patting, squeezing, raspberry-blowing, all with an astonishingly palpable focus.

I see your relentlessness. You already possess an uncanny sense for the moments your parents most need a break, and will do just about anything to ensure you have our undivided attention.

“Learning isn’t having an agenda. It’s forming associations, recognizing when they discover. When they put things together they’ve never put together before.”

Most of all, I see your connection-building. You are already laying the foundation — with a magnitude I can scarcely comprehend — for the learning that will take place for the rest of your life. These connections, these moments of comprehension, are like golden threads criss-crossing all over our home, constantly reinforced as you feel your way across them again and again.

“The most important ingredient is the people who interact on a regular basis with young children. A baby does something, and the adult response to what the baby’s doing. It’s this back and forth responsiveness that’s absolutely essential for brain development.”

That I am an integral part of this process is humbling. You are reminding me of the connection between learning and relationships; of the need to learn when to set down the lists and sit down with the people. In this way, you are strengthening my ability to connect with those around me — as a parent, teacher, and human being.

So, little one, although I wish you’d sometimes slow down, I look forward to all we will continue to learn together.

Quotes from the documentary, The Beginning of Life, (streaming on Netflix) by filmmaker Estela Renner.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

“Are You Sure?” #TeacherMom

It’s spring break, which means my 2 year old gets to have his big sister home from school for more make-believe play together. Yesterday, I overheard them playing “house.”

In the course of their play, I heard my daughter ask her little brother how he wanted his kitchen to look. After he gave his idea, she asked, “Are you sure?” She proceeded to try to convince him of all the reasons for why her way would be better.

It was like looking into the proverbial mirror.

I knew I was witnessing my 6 year-old simply playing out the many times I’ve asked her the same question — after all, in their game, she was the mom.

It made me pause and reflect on the idea of autonomy. I’ve written about its benefits for our students before, but I wonder just how effectively I walk the walk with my own children. When we offer them a choice, but then cast doubt on their decision, we don’t give them the full opportunity that real autonomy affords.

Of course, that’s not to say that my young children get to choose in all things, just as my students did not always have a choice. But if we want to build trust, confidence, and ownership, honoring the decisions they do get to make is pivotal.

And when we don’t, well, I guess we’ll just watch the cycle start all over with our own children…

featured image: DeathtoTheStockPhoto

When We Love Spreadsheets Too Much: Matching the Tech to the Need

Three years ago, I was hit with bed rest right before the start of our school’s IB PYP Exhibition (a student-led unit in which students exhibit their abilities to direct their own learning on a topic of their choice).

Though disappointed to miss out, I was pleased to discover that I could still mentor groups via Skype, which I’ve continued to do each year since.

However, we still had some hurdles to overcome with our unique mentor “meeting” setup. How to organize our ideas? How to keep track of when we’d meet next? How to exchange links to helpful resources?

I turned, as always, to Google apps, whipping up the collaborative little beauty below to send to the students via the teacher. With more than a little extra time on my hands (remember the whole bed-rest thing?), I found fancy fonts, froze the top rows, and everything.

It was a spreadsheet to be proud of, and I was excited to see it in action!

Only… it didn’t quite perform to my expectations.

For one thing, the kids didn’t have access to 1:1 tech, so they usually only saw the document through their teacher.

For another, they were frankly too busy to be bothered with updating yet another form! Exhibition is one fast-moving, action-packed unit!

Ultimately, the kids didn’t get a lot of the resources they needed in a timely manner, and our communications often felt encumbered.

So, as this year’s exhibition kicks off, we’re keeping it as functional as possible. As we Skype (something I continue as the school is too far from where I live), I type notes in a basic Google Doc just to keep track of the different groups’ ideas. Afterward, I’m emailing the teacher easy-to-print feedback or even pasted-out articles to get resources in those kids’ hands asap!

In the end, it’s possible that this problem might be unique to my quirky infatuation with creating neat and color-coded spreadsheets. However, the general principle applies universally. When we keep our sights on what’s best for the kids, we are less likely to get caught up in bells, whistles, and all-around helpful-in-theory-but-not-in-practice methods and resources. Here’s to a better year of exhibition mentoring!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto