I have unshakable faith in children. They always show me the way. ♥

Sunday, January 27, 2008

thoughts on community...

A few days ago, I wrote about one of my students and the letter she wrote me that made me slow down. As teachers, we're often moving at breakneck pace, trying to keep up with standards, benchmarks, stay true to the kids in our classes, be responsive to the kids and the school and the report card expectations, to remember Stay off of Drugs week and everything that comes across in single days of teaching.

It's exhausting.

Yet, every lesson I've learned from teaching has taught me the value of slowing down. Not slowing down my expectations or the work we're doing, but slowing myself down. Watching the children and being responsive to them, which, in turn, teaches them to be responsive to each other. Breathing. Sometimes breathing twice before saying anything.

This weekend, the lesson I learned from my student's letter has been at the very forefront in my mind. I have been moving at breakneck pace, getting report cards done, trying to keep up with our pacing guide, trying to balance this work with all of the responsibilities in my non-work life.

So, Kamaya's letter to me just helped me put my breaks on completely, in a very needed way.

I said in my post: They get it. They know.

Every time I've had doubt about the value of slowing down, of taking the time to build and maintain the culture of our own classroom community, the children have always reminded me.

It is worth it.

I wish I could tell you Kamaya's real name. I wish I could show you a picture of her, so you could hold an image of her in your mind while you read the letter that guided me toward that needed epiphany on Friday. But, her privacy is far more important, so I can't show you her picture, but you can get an idea of her spirit. Of the beauty and love that she exudes, even when she's not trying.

My friends, they all do that.

They know, sometimes even more than I do, that our classroom is something extraordinary. They know that not everything in life works the way our community does. It works because we care about making it work. And it's not just me, as the teacher. It's all of us.

Here's another story:

In October, my students were taking a Math assessment that spanned two days and about 40-55 minutes each day. It was very unlike anything they've done before: putting up folders so it can be individual work, not talking and collaborating. This Math assessment is one that our school system is trying to develop, so my school is piloting it so we can give feedback about what's good and what needs to be changed.

In spite of my assurances to my class that they should just do their best and not worry about something if they didn't know the answer, they did worry. It stressed some of them out, which just tightens little iron rings around my heart, because I hate watching them stress about something that means (IMO) relatively little.

So, on the second day, I had a little brainstorm of something to do before we began the 2nd part of the assessment. I reminded them again that it was not something they should worry about -- it was just something that would tell me what they already knew and what I still needed to teach them. I also said that sometimes, when people have to do something that they're nervous about, it helps to have something new or fun to hold onto.

I showed them a bunch of brand new, fancy pencils that I'd sharpened and told them that everyone would get to choose a brand new pencil to use for the assessment and then they could keep it afterward.

The kids were so excited, and Ghaazi said, "You're the best teacher ever!"

I'm not arrogant enough to believe that whenever a child says that to me, because, really, it's often an expression they use to let me know that they are just really, really happy right then. I smiled at him and he turned around and pointed to our Rules, number 2, and he said,

"You're being nice to others!"

"I am, yes," I said. "Can I ask something about it?"

They all nodded at me.

"So, you might be feeling nervous about this Math work we're going to do." Several of them nodded. "And you're excited about having a brand new pencil to work with and then keep?" They all nodded. "I know that that is 'being nice to others' -- like our Rule 2." More nods.

"And while it makes me feel proud if someone says, 'you're the best teacher' -- I want to ask you guys something. Look at our list of rules." They did. "Who made those rules?"

"We did," they said.

"Yeah. I helped guide us and asked a lot of questions and did the writing. But we all shared our Hopes and Goals for first grade, and we all talked about rules we would need to help us achieve them, and we all wrote the rules together..."

Again, they nodded, and some of them were starting to smile a little bit.

"So, when I do something that is being nice to others, I'm following our rules. I didn't tell you what the rules would be."

"Right, we made them!" Ghaazi said.

"So, Ghaazi, I wonder about what you said before -- I don't think it's just--"

"Yeah," he said, getting all excited, "I just love it here!"

"And that's not just me, is it?" I said. "I'm not the only one here!"

"No, it's all of us!" Britney said.

"We all do these things!"

"It's our commoodity!" Lina said. [community! ♥]

Which it is. I had to wait until after school to really let myself dissolve into the proud, overwhelming tears that I felt after that conversation, because they really do get it. They get the feeling of trying to understand everyone else, of caring about everyone even if they're not your best friend, because everyone adds something to our community. They feel how good it is to be doing this work together.

They know.

It humbles me to be a part of this process, because I learn more from them then I do from almost anything else in my life. It's because of my students that I know how to step back and not get involved in arguments or wank or general orneriness in other parts of life. It's because of them that I can help myself find the positive when things feel overwhelming and hard.

Now that I've realized this once again; now that I've made some changes in some of the learning we're going to be doing next week (starting a new focus in both writing and math that are going to just jazz them up completely!!), I can't wait to get started.

While I'm always grateful for professional development and I'm excited about an Inservice that I'm attending tomorrow, I want to be in the classroom tomorrow. I want to get started on all this new learning.

I miss my commoodity. ♥

Friday, January 25, 2008

Children do pay attention...

I often find that January is a strange time for teaching and learning. It's a bit lethargic, a lot cold, and full of a lot of sameness. During this time, I always have to find ways to reinvigorate myself, and in turn, the children. If I do, it's a very cyclical process, and one that benefits me just as much as it does the children.


A few minutes ago, I was cleaning out some files and rediscovered this letter that one of my students wrote to me in early November.

[click to make the picture larger]

TEXT: Dear Ms. [me] you are
a great great teacher
and you get
great things for
us to learn. I like
when you get new stuff
and I like
that. And you are
too nice
and you think
about more stuff

[click to make the picture larger]

TEXT: and you get new books
for us to read and
some times we don't
do our fun stations
and we do fun math.
and when it is raining
we play games inside
and sometimes we do
and we do fun songs
and read Weekly Reader
and read books with you
and guests come in our cool room
and we do calendar math
and you let us jump in the leaves
and roll down the hill
thank you Ms. [me]
love, [her]

Sometimes I think we, as adults, forget about the incredibly intense and deep observation skills of children. If I ever doubt it again, I just need to look at this letter again to be reminded.

They get it. They know.