What Matters Most to YOU About your Child’s School Experience? #TeacherMom

Much of what I write here comes down to this question. But when it came down answering it directly for an interview for my cousin’s class, I was surprised at how difficult it was to decide.

What matters most to me? Really, no less than a preservation of my child’s humanity. Her empathy. Her creativity. Her curiosity. Because only when she finds meaning for herself will the learning follow.

Cultivating humanity exists in the small details. Non-examples include choices such as:

  • assigning worksheets that are excessive or developmentally inappropriate and then faulting children for being inattentive
  • focusing more on the data and products than on the child
  • consistently depending on extrinsic incentives instead of choosing to have the harder, ongoing conversations about broader, more intrinsic values

Examples include:

  • honoring students’ agency by inviting them to the planning table for their own learning
  • proactively working to communicate with families, not because we want behavior conversations to be less awkward, but because we want families to know we truly care about their children
  • trusting students to monitor their own bathroom use

These are the kinds of approaches that send a clear message to students: you are valued. Your voice matters. You bring something unique to our group that cannot be replicated.

These messages matter not only for the sake of individual wellness (which is a worthy goal in itself), but for the sake of our collective future in an increasingly automated world. Realizing that “human beings are our most valuable resource” (as referenced in the recent article, “Educator: In Finland, I realized how ‘mean-spirited’ the U.S. education system really is”) should be of utmost importance in meeting the needs of the individual and the whole.  (see also the great video Adam Hill shared in his post, “What are Soft Skills & Why do Students Need them More than Ever?“)

Going back to that interview, other questions posed included:

  • What matters most to your child when they go to school?
  • What is the most important quality for a classroom teacher to possess?
  • What makes you the most nervous about sending your child to school?
  • If your child misbehaves, how would you hope the teacher handles it?
  • What rules are the most important for teachers to have?
  • How should teachers best communicate with parents in regards to their child’s behavior?

What might happen if we use these kinds of questions as conversation-starters between teachers and families? How might collaborating to figure out what we hope school will accomplish impact our communities? And most importantly, how might seeking for understanding and connection help us cultivate humanity on the scale of the both the individual and the whole?

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5 Opportunities When We Let Them Teach

The first portion of my 8 year-old’s parent teacher conference a couple weeks ago was student-led, during which she was able to share her desire to be given serious responsibilities. As a result, her wonderful teacher allowed her to teach a math lesson.

She came home brimming with pride–and with a new career aspiration. And I’ve been reflecting on the this ever since. I know that when I was teaching myself, I did not often provide these experiences, which is why I greatly admire teacher like:

I’m looking forward to implementing student-led workshops and lessons more frequently when I return to the classroom! Meanwhile, some benefits I’ve been able to see just from my daughter’s experience include the following.

Opportunity #1: Helps take down “secret teacher business”

The idea of dismantling “secret teacher business” has been thrilling and fascinating to me ever since my introduction via Edna Sackson’s blog. Allowing students to teach gives them insight on the bigger picture of school–the curricula, the planning, the constraints–which in turn can bring greater ownership and sense of purpose.

Opportunity #2: Helps them develop empathy

Among all the positive aspects of teaching, my daughter also observed, “Some kids were not very respectful.” When students are given the opportunity to direct the classroom, they gain new insight on what an enormous task this can be. While this should not be the only reason we pursue student-led endeavors, it’s certainly a wonderful benefit when students learn to see their teachers as human beings, too.

Opportunity #3: Helps them process learning in a new way

My daughter taught a lesson on rounding using a variety of strategies. This was a math topic she loved, but approaching it from a teacher’s perspective required her to use speaking & listening skills, in addition to her mathematical processing skills.

Opportunity #4: Helps them learn to take ownership

Especially when students are offered the chance to teach about a variety of concepts (including offering “non-academic” workshops), they can share in the learning plans. I especially love all the descriptions of teachers who allow students to opt-in to sessions, resulting a group of learners who actually chose to be there and learn that content.

Opportunity #5: Confidence-building

I loved the student feedback in Mindy’s post linked above. Especially:

student comment via blog by Mindy Slaughter

Student-led lessons are just another facet of cultivating student agency in our classrooms. What other benefits have you observed?

To subscribe or manage your subscription preferences, click here. Weekly blog schedule usually includes Inquiry provocations on Monday, #TeacherMom posts on Wednesday, and Learning Through Reflecting posts on Friday. 

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Inquiry into Feelings

Taking a break from my provocation series into the SDGs to write an inquiry into feelings. It was sparked by the first resource in this list, from the profound words of a second grader: “With friends, I don’t have to be happy.”

I think the best reason I can think of to stop and inquire into the nature of feelings is summed up by this quote from Brene Brown:

https://brenebrown.com/

How might an inquiry into the nature of feelings impact your students at any point in the school year? Use the resources below to find out!

Resource #1: Tweet from Hata Trbonja

Resource #2: Disney Pixar’s Inside Out trailer (also, this incredible scene when Sadness helps Riley make sense of memories that were once dominated by joy).

Resource #3: Feelings by Nate Milton

Resource #4: The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld

Resource #5: We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen

Resource #6: The Heart & The Bottle by Oliver Jeffers

Provocation Questions: 

  • What are feelings?
  • Why do we need feelings?
  • What is the purpose of feelings? All of them?
  • How can it be helpful for us to identify how we are feeling?
  • What are different perspectives people have when experiencing each emotion?
  • What is our responsibility to honor our feelings?
  • What would life be like without any emotions?

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On Valuing Teacher Humanity

It was the end of lunchtime. I finished up in the teacher’s lounge and was just about to head up to my classroom when I suddenly had to run to the bathroom.

After a long journey of trying to conceive, multiple rounds of fertility treatments, and finally a positive pregnancy test — I felt sure I was losing that baby.

The details of all that followed are a bit of a blur. I managed to get someone to cover my class as my kids returned from lunch, managed to get down to the office to explain why I had to leave.

But what will forever remain clear in my memory was the compassion of my principal, Kathy Watson. She listened as I sobbed. She held my hands, hugged me, reassured me that I could take all the time I needed.

Equally precious was what she did not do. She didn’t bring up sub plans, she didn’t hint at a meeting she was probably late for, she didn’t remind me of leave policies, and she didn’t try to minimize my pain in any way. I knew that in that moment of crisis, nothing was more important than her being there for me.

In short, she valued my humanity as a teacher and as a human being.

I wish valuing teachers’ humanity is something we could all take for granted. But somehow, as we wave our banners for what’s best for students, sometimes what’s best for teachers gets forgotten. A sad recent example (with many more in the thread):

When I was a class-teacher my son was rushed into hospital. It was touch and go.

As in many instances when I’m writing about something vulnerable, I’m reminded of something author Brene Brown wrote:

What I’ve also learned from Brene’s work is that it’s impossible to be selective about our empathy. We cannot profess to have empathy for our students and then deny it for our teachers. We need to find ways to let all those around us with whom we would like to make meaningful connections that they are not alone, that we are with them in the arena, too.

I am grateful to report that after a couple of dark weeks, we found that the baby’s heart was still beating. My son is a thriving 4 year-old today. I am also grateful to have had the chance to experience such empathy from my principal. Both are precious moments I will carry with me for a lifetime.

What are ways we can show teachers we value their humanity even when especially if it throws a wrench into plans? How does modeling this kind of empathy impact our students and their learning?

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Do We Give Students The Opportunity to Show Their Best Selves?

I came across this incredible story this morning:

As moving and remarkable as this story is, it makes me wonder: would this kind of response be unique to just that group of students? It seems to me that this highlights the broader goodness that is inherent in our kids, if only we give them the opportunity to rise to and express it.

And what does that take? Clearly, this teacher has taken the time to form a relationship with her students. She describes a classroom environment of shared ownership as her students step up to write on the board and pass out papers as she’s confined to a wheelchair.  She gives them the opportunity to find and share their authentic voices.

Of course, it’s easy to lose sight of these things amid all the obstacles we face as teachers. Pressures of time. Pressures of curriculum. And, like in the circumstance of this Detroit kindergarten classroom with 38 students this year, pressures of resources.

We can and should do what we can to fight for improvements in our schools. But even as we wade through these limitations, we can always find opportunities for student voice/choice and agency.

This might take the form of:

  • inquiry-based learning and provocations to help them make connections and discoveries.
  • regular class meetings in which students help address issues and express concerns/suggestions.
  • Authentic problem-based learning in which students investigate personally-relevant issues.
  • Less dependence on contrived-learning (ie, boxed or computer programs that take the person out of personalized learning), and more meaningful co-constructed learning experiences.
  • Teaching them ways to positively harness the power of social media and digital tools (rather than solely focusing on cyberbullying/safety).

As we work to find ways to give our students their voice and ownership, we will be astonished again and again at their ideas, their empathy, and their capacity to lead as the next generation.

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Inquiry Into Attitudes: Empathy

This is part of a series of inquiry-based provocations for essential elements of the PYP and the Learner Profile. For more, click here.

We understand the power of empathy. It can help us find a sense of belonging. It can help us cross boundaries in reaching those around us. It can help us process our past pain and understand the struggles of others.

Surely, such a powerful attitude should never be taken for granted where our students are concerned. Here are resources to help them investigate it.

Resource #1: Scarlett, by the STUDIO NYC

Resource #2: The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig

Resource #3: If We Could See Inside Others’ Hearts

Resource #4: Empathy by Brene Brown

Provocation Questions:

  • What is empathy like?
  • What is empathy not like?
  • What is the relationship between empathy and connection?
  • What are the different perspectives on a empathy?
  • How does a person’s ability to feel empathy change?
  • How does empathy impact our communities?

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Inquiry Into Our Common Ground

This week’s provocation is inspired by this powerful video by Asger Leth (please note that this is not part of the intended provocation for your students as it may be unsuitable for children). 

“There’s more that brings us together than we think.”

Whether you hope to address existing contention in your classroom or to proactively build a stronger sense of community, this provocation aims to unearth more empathy, respect, and common ground.

Resource #1: Step In the Box If…

This resource is an activity I learned from an adult team building exercise a couple years ago. It goes something like this:

1. The leader puts tape on the ground in the shape of a large box, with the participants standing around outside it.

2. The leader starts by asking participants to “Step in the box if…” for fairly innocuous topics, such as, “…if you are wearing jeans today.” “…if you like sports.” “…if you love chocolate.”

3. The leader then asks participants to “Step in the box if…” for more personal concepts: “…if you are nervous about school this year.” “…if you have ever felt like you don’t belong.” “…if you have ever felt afraid.” “…if you have big ideas to change the world.” “…if you are responsible to take care of a younger sibling.” “…if you love someone who has a disability.”

Resource #2: Shawn’s Paper from “Turkey Day,” Season 4, Episode 10 of Boy Meets World (in which Shawn’s and Cory’s families try to come together for Thanksgiving but find discomfort with their social class distinctions)

Provocation Questions:

  • Where does the phrase “common ground” come from?
  • How do people find things they share in common?
  • How does it impact communities when people search for what they have in common?
  • How does it impact individuals when they search for what they have in common with others?
  • What is the relationship between finding what you share in common with others and being true to makes you different?
  • How is finding common ground connected to respect?

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