Why teach?

It’s the end of the school year.

Contrary to what people outside of education think, things don’t wind down as the year ends. Instead, they ramp up, and come dangerously close to spiraling out of control. Holding onto the tail of that spinning mass is exciting — and exhausting.

Each night I tell myself I’m going to bed by 9PM, and at 11 PM I’m still awake, working. When I close my computer and my eyes it seems like only minutes until my alarm announces 5AM.

It’s the end of the school year.

I’m tired. I’m sick with a cold. I’m coughing enough to make my head hurt. I have tons of assessments to catalogue, reports to write, forms to fill out, orders to make, and curriculum maps to tweak for next year. My classroom no longer has children in it, but it has lots of stuff in it. Stuff that all needs to be gone through and placed in its proper spot.

That brief rant may make you wonder why I teach.

Sometimes it makes me wonder, too!

Thank goodness, deep down, under the weariness, I know why I teach. Teaching is me. It’s what I do. It’s who I am. It brings me joy.

Even though I know teaching is my thing, still, it’s really nice when someone else notices and points it out to me. Especially in these moments of fatigue and big work it’s super helpful to be reminded I make a difference. I value each and every one of those comments. But, every once in a while, I’m blown away.

This is one of those times.

A few days ago I got this note in my mailbox.

 

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Wow. Just, wow.

This is why I teach. I teach with that hope that I’ll touch hearts, minds, and spirits. I teach so I might spark a passion for learning. I teach so I can show each and every child that they are strong, rich, powerful, and important … foibles and all.

And, I teach because my students do the same for me.

I’m super grateful this 9th grader took the time to write to me.

I helped her see her worth and power. She helped me see mine.

Wow. Just, wow.

 

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No Fretting Shields

Take a look. What do you see? What do you think is going on?

Yes, my students are writing. Yes, they have folders around their work. Nope, I’m not trying to keep my kindergarteners from cheating. I’m trying to keep them from fretting.

They want to be good at everything they do. They have big beautiful brains, and they use them in remarkably wonderful ways. They are constantly learning, discovering, and figuring out. The progress they have made since September — heck the progress they make every day — is fantabulous. None-the-less, they still fret.

I see the doubt, worry, and anxiety well up in their eyes. They don’t say anything out loud, but they stop writing, look at me, look at their paper, look at their friend’s paper erase, rewrite, and look at me again.

I imagine this conversation happening inside their awesome heads.

“Wait, what? Is that how you spell that? You mean I should think that? Is that the strategy I should use? Oh no, maybe I’m not right. Maybe they’re right and I’m wrong. Maybe Miss James will think I don’t know what I’m doing. Maybe I really don’t know what I’m doing. Ohhhhh nooooo!”

Phew! I want that internal conversation to stop. I want them to see and know how remarkable they are, how marvelous is their thinking, strategizing, struggling, and even failing. I constantly encourage them to trust themselves. I talk about strategies, and why they were powerful.

It doesn’t help. I mean, of course it helps some. They do try more, and perhaps stress a bit less, but wow, they do still fret.

Finally, I had an aha moment. I broke out the folders.

One of my girlies asked what they were. Another said “They’re so we don’t cheat.” Many eyes turned to look at my face. Almost as though they couldn’t believe I would even suggest they would do something so nefarious.

Before they could say anything I said, “I know a lot of people use these so kids don’t cheat. I’m using them so you don’t fret.” More eyes turned to look at my face. I continued. “You know how to do so many things, and you’re learning more and more every day. You have big beautiful brains, and you know how to use them. But, if you happen to look at a friend’s work and notice it’s different from yours, you fret. Instead of trusting yourself, or being ok not knowing it yet, you fret. And then you erase or change all your amazing work. So, I thought we could try some no fretting folders.”

One of them touched the folder and asked, “No fretting folders?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “No fretting folders. You put them up, and just do your stuff — without fretting about what the people next to you are doing.”

She repeated her question, but now it was a statement. “No fretting folders.” She paused a moment, and then with glowing eyes, and a huge smile, she said. “They’re like shields. They’re no fretting shields, Miss James!”

No fretting shields! Indeed. Perhaps next year we will each have our own personal “no fretting shield.” We can decorate them and keep them in our cubbies. We can decide when we need to use them. I wonder if that would increase the power of the shield. I think it just might.

The Joy of Inventing

Recently heard in my classroom …

Miss James!

I LOVE inventing! Inventions are the BEST!

(And yes, the bold, large font is appropriate as it conveys, I hope, just a bit of her enthusiasm!)

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Oh my GOSH!!! I loved the passion, zeal, and joy of this young inventor!

She’s right, you know, inventions are awesome and fantabulous!  They are the best because they allow, encourage, enable:

  • joy
  • passion
  • engagement
  • independance
  • collaboration
  • thinking
  • problem solving
  • sensible risk taking
  • failure, re-thinking, re-designing, re-making, and increased understanding
  • creativity
  • learning
  • love of making, exploring, and learning

I loved her enthusiasm, and I’m so glad she shared it with me. I am grateful for the reminder to search for, and find, ways to support freedom, making, play and inventing in my learning space!

 

 

 

Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?

I’m in the second week of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC. I’ve been thinking about George Couros’s Critical Questions for the Innovative Educator(Chapter 2, pages 39-41). They are fantastic!

I love the first question!

Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?

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This question implies a deep sense of respect for our students. We are treating them as ourselves. We are acknowledging and treating them as:

  • people who can learn.
  • people who love to learn.
  • people who, when given the chance, will choose to learn.
  • accomplished learners.
  • people who know things.
  • people whose ideas are valuable.
  • people whose needs and wants are respected and considered.
  • people with interests and passions.
  • people who are good at some things, but not so good at others.
  • people who deserve, and are given,  reasonable freedom, choice and agency.
  • people who are teachers as well as learners.
  • people who inspire others.

What a fantastic way to approach our students and inform our practice!

I ask myself three additional questions when I reflect on my practice.

Will this increase my students’ love of learning? 

Will this empower my students to achieve their academic and creative potential? 

Will this position them for greater thinking and creativity in the future? 

My goal is to be able to answer, “Yes!” to each of these questions. Most of the times I can. Sometimes, though, I have to say “Hmmm … not so much.”

But, since I’m asking the questions, the answer “Hmmm … not so much.” isn’t so bad. In fact, maybe it’s actually good!

Now I have the opportunity to think, learn, ideate, iterate, and come up with new ideas. Ideas that will make me want to be  a learner in my class, and that will increase my student’s love of learning, will empower them to achieve their potential, and will position them for greater thinking and creativity in the future!