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

Sunday, October 21, 2012

bystander behavior...

Last weekend, I had an experience that I was so happy to witness.

But before I recount it, let me give a little history:

I've been reading an extraordinary new book by Caltha Crowe, called How to Bullyproof Your Classroom.  Not only is it a wonderful resource for teachers about the definition of bullying behaviors (and gateway behaviors), but it also provides proactive strategies for use in setting up one's classroom community, as well as lessons (with wonderful children's literature) to use with K-2nd grade students, and 3rd-5th grade students.

Her book is well researched and one of the points that really stood out for me was that much of the anti-bullying work that's been done up until now was teaching the person experiencing bullying behavior how to stand up for oneself, but that that is not always possible -- or even safe -- for someone to do.  Instead, it focuses on the bystanders, on building community where children use empathy, on what people can do when they witness bullying behavior.

I've already used one of the lessons with my first graders, and we're really investigating and discussing what it means to be kind: what it feels like, what it sounds like, what it looks like.

It is very much on my mind these days.

Last weekend, I was at Target with my daughter (trying very hard not to buy every adorable onesie that I saw) and saw some teenaged boys hanging out, talking, and laughing across the way from us in the sporting goods aisle.

One of the boys called another's name, then tossed a basketball pretty hard toward him.  It missed him completely and almost hit a woman in a wheelchair who was passing by.  The teenager who threw the ball saw what happened and took off.

The woman called out to him angrily, wondering why he would leave and not apologize.

But one of the boy's friends called him back, "You apologize, you idiot!"

It took several long seconds, but the teenager did come back, went to the woman, and apologized.  She accepted his apology and went on, and he went back to his friends.

He was laughing nervously and explaining to his friends that it surprised him and that's why he ran.

But one of his friends said, "Dude. You're a dick.  You don't do something like that and take off."

The others echoed that: "You are a dick."

I stood there, happy beyond words.  I was so glad that his friends had called him on that incident.  It very easily could have become a situation that escalated, or his friends could have laughed along with him and taken off, but at least one of them didn't.  He recognized the situation for what it was, and called him back.  (also, I apologize for the language used, but it's authentic, and I think it really illustrates the power that friends and bystanders have)

As I stood there, I thought: "this is what I want for my daughter.  As she gets older I want her to be able to recognize behavior that is not okay, and say something about it to her friends.  Similarly, I want her friends to do the same for her if her behavior is not okay."

More than anything, I wanted to go talk to those boys.  I wanted to tell them that I noticed.  That I appreciated it.  That that is the kind of behavior I think we need more of in the world.  But I couldn't think of how to approach them in a way that wouldn't seem corny, or trite, but instead would really just reinforce what they'd already done.  By the time I said, "just get over yourself and go say something!" they'd already moved on and I didn't see them anywhere.

Lesson learned.  

When I see something like that, probably the most important thing is that I do say something, even if it's not as eloquent as I might like it to be.

And to any teenagers out there reading... if that was you?  I think what you did was pretty awesome.  Keep it up.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Secret talents?

So, I have this dream.  I hold out hope that I have secret talents that I don't yet know about, that I am secretly amazing at something and it's a complete mystery to me what it is.  It might be for something that exists that I haven't yet tried: badminton, robot-building, flying a helicopter.  Maybe my secret talent is in a sport or game, possibly one that hasn't been invented yet, like sky-dive speech-writing.  Or lawn-mower food preparation.  Perhaps blind-folded tree climbing.

When I try something new, I sometimes wonder: "Is this my secret talent?"

For over a year, I have been undergoing the certification process to become a consulting teacher for the Responsive Classroom.  With this certification, I will be able to teacher Responsive Classroom Level 1 to other educators.  As someone passionate about the Responsive Classroom approach, this has been a welcome and exciting challenge.  It is an intense and rigorous process involving a lot of being observed in one's own classroom practice, a lot of writing and reflecting, which then culminates in a lot of practice presenting to other adults.

Apart from being excited at the idea of becoming certified, in the back of my mind, I thought I might find my secret talent.  Armed with my homework and bags under my eyes (I'm a first time mom of an infant), I arrived at part one of our adult seminar in May, really raring to go.

During those busy three days, we learned a lot, read a lot, and had the opportunity to give a very short presentation.  We all left that seminar with a lot to read and a lot to prepare.  In part two of the seminar -- in July -- we had four presentations to give.

I spent a lot of my sleep-deprived hours at the end of June and beginning of July working and reworking my presentations.  I practiced on my 4 month old daughter, who thought I was quite funny.  I practiced in front of the mirror, which told me nothing.  I practiced in the shower, in which I sounded amazing (of course, I also sound amazing singing in the shower and you'll notice that I'm not a famous singer...).

I arrived at part two of our adult seminar in July, laden with binders and books and notecards and posters and markers, even painter's tape.  I was exhilarated and nervous, excited to see the other members of the seminar again.  It was great to be back together again, to catch up, to hear about how everyone's summer was going, to learn more about each other.  We also began our many presentations on Monday and Tuesday of that week.

As it turns out, presenting to adults is not my secret talent.  Alas.

I don't mean that I lack skills in teaching adults, but rather that I was not instantly and immediately a Master of All Skill.  In fact, I'm not even bad at it.  I'm just not quite as amazing as my secret fantasy had imagined.  After that realization, I had a bit of a mourning period.  It can be disappointing to discover one isn't quite as good at something as one had (secretly) hoped.

Once I got over the initial mourning period, the time I had with my coach was absolute gold to me.  In fact, I got so focused on being given the gift of feedback, of places to improve, that I almost didn't want to waste any of that valuable time on what was going well.  I remember feeling a little bit like: "Okay, cool.  Yes, okay, but FIX ME!  How else can I get better?"

This got me thinking about my students (as many things do), and I wondered if any of them have similar experiences.  Six year olds often jump into things with enthusiasm and gusto, for them it's about the process, the beginning.  They often lose steam partway through, or when they realize that something is hard.  For me, as their teacher, their coach, this can be a rich opportunity to reinforce their enthusiasm, to help them see what they are doing well in this new learning.  Maybe I can help them through any mourning period they might have so that they can then reapply themselves with the same enthusiasm I had when I realized that my new endeavor was as rich with opportunity for new learning as theirs is for them.

And as for me...?  Well, I've still yet to discover my secret talent...

Sunday, June 17, 2012

packing traditions...

I was just reading this post on the Responsive Classroom's blog and it got me thinking about one of the parts of the school year at which I continue to fail spectacularly: packing. Oh, man.

I have a close friend and former colleague (are colleagues really "former" if you still talk to them and are inspired by them regularly?) with whom I share many traits. Two of which include:

1. We both have a lot of stuff.
2. We both take a long time decluttering and packing up.

Years ago we both discovered some commonality in the fact that it took us days to pack up our classrooms for the summer, while others seemed to take almost no time at all. (I always used to imagine they had some sort of magic power or secret animal helpers that scurried around and did the packing for them at night when no one was looking) For whatever reason, my friend and I are good teachers, but slow packers. I almost wrote "bad packers" but I believe that's incorrect. We pack in an organized and useful way; it just takes a while.

After a particularly difficult day of packing and stress, one of us went to the other in tears because another well meaning colleague had unintentionally sent us over the edge by saying, "Wow, you still have a lot to do." So the other one (and I'm not being intentionally vague here, I honestly don't remember who said or did what -- just know that this story is highly indicative of our relationship) walked into her classroom, looked around and started pointing out all of the things she could see that already were done.

It was a moment of clarity, a moment to take a breath and realize that, yes, a lot had already been done. It was exactly like the reinforcing language I strive to use with my students on a regular basis.

It worked.

That was probably more than thirteen years ago, but it started a tradition between the two of us. Every June (even though we no longer teach at the same school or even in the same state), sometime during the last week of school, one of us contacts the other one (via email, text, or phone) and says, "Wow, look at your classroom! You've gotten SO MUCH done; you're nearly finished!" Whether it's true or not, it always puts a smile on my face and gives me that little push to keep going. It reminds me of the reinforcing language from way back then and reminds me to look at everything I already have done and lets me take that deep breath and jump back into what I haven't.

I kind of love it. :)

How about you? What sorts of traditions do you have with other colleagues that pump you up?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

knowing young children...

One of my students had surgery while we were on vacation. She came back to school last week with two casts on her lower legs and a really big story to tell.

Naturally, we had her share at Morning Meeting. She talked about the surgery a little bit, talked about her casts a lot and asked for questions/comments. Many of the questions were about her crutches (were they hard to use, what were they called), how did she come to school on the bus (she didn’t), and did she need some help (she told us that she would ask for help when she needed it).

She brought several tools from the hospital to share with us: the air mask she used when getting the anesthesia (she called it the “strange air”), her identification bracelets, and her stuffed bunny from home with two casts on the legs as well.

Here’s what I couldn’t stop thinking about as she was sharing: there are some pretty brilliant people at that hospital.

First of all, I'm still thinking about what a wonderful idea it is to have a child bring a favorite, cuddly toy and affix it with the same casts. It allows for a feeling of solidarity, for play, and for sharing with others. Then the fact that they allowed her to take the mask from her anesthesia home as well pleases me greatly. Again, she has something with which she can share, and it allows for more play after the fact to process the entire experience.

It was weird enough for me, as an adult, to go through anesthesia the two times I’ve had to deal with it, but as a child, it must be a vastly different experience. Anyway. Not a lot to say about all of this, just that there are some pretty amazing people out there that do pretty amazing things for children when they go to the hospital.

I am so thankful that they exist.