Quiet

I just read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. What an amazing book! It was beautifully written and so validating!
One thing the author spoke about was how important it is to appreciate the gifts of introverts — whether in yourself or in your own children, or in your students. Introverts offer deep insights and observations about the world, and deep intimacy with a few rather than shallow connections with a multitude. She wrote about research into an introvert’s nee to recharge and find a quiet space for healing and recharging. She talked about carving out time and space for this, and how unhealthy it is for introverts not to have this kind of recharging. She talked about the importance of honoring who we are as introverts by choosing jobs in which our gifts shine, rather than trying to change ourselves to fit the picture of our extrovert-oriented world. She spoke of the danger of gearing everything toward extroversion, of missing the gifts that only introverts can bring to a classroom, a business, the world.
It strikes me how very much I am enjoying my teaching this year, and how well-suited I am for these small scale interactions. My students are learning so much from me, and I am learning so much from them, by being able to work with them one-on-one and in small groups. I am helping them reach deep to learn, and in return and reaping the harvest of emotional and intellectual connection. I have often thought of teaching as a job for party people. But there’s a place for very kind of person in teaching — it’s just a matter of finding the right setting and the right way to teach and learn that suits you.

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Narcissus

One year, Narcissus was in my class, a self-identified Mean Girl. “I’m a mean girl,” he said. “I tell it like it is.”
Helping Narcissus learn compassion and how not to be the center of attention was  challenging. He was funny, and kids laughed at his antics. But they also were weary and wary. Would he turn on them next?
Instead, he turned on me.
What happened was this: One day I called Narcissus in to discuss behavior. It did not turn out the way I planned. He was a fast talker, slick as wet pavement. He said, “You should know that I’ve taken a poll, and everyone agrees that  YOU need to change YOUR behavior.” His head bobbed back and forth in that cool way kids have on T.V. when they’re being smarty with their t.v. parents. “Oh, yeah, baby.”

Then he pulled out a list, and a pile of letters. “All of these kids wrote letters.” He looked down at one. “This one says, — Oh. I can’t read that,” he smirked.”It’s private — watch your language, girl!” He shuffled papers. “This one says you’re too strict.” He dug another one out. “This one — ” he smiled to himself, looking it over, “you don’t EVEN want to know what this person says about you.”
I ignored the letters and patiently went over our class rules again, what it means to be a respectful member of our classroom community, and how he was being disrespectful with his constant talking, and ..yada yada yada. But inside I felt defeated. This savvy kid had defeated me.  Again. My mind spun out into the painful places teaching has taken me at times. “Nothing will change,” the voice told me. “You  can’t teach.” My mind went where it has often gone over the years: I shouldn’t be a teacher. I should just quit. This was too painful.

I thought about all the methods I had used to help manage his poor behavior and outbursts — the checklists I had given him that he simply would not check off when he was misbehaving. The moments stepping out of the classroom that brought only laughter and hoots from other students, and the focus of attention squarely where Narcissus wanted it to be. I really didn’t know what to do. And steely eyed as I tried to appear, I felt awful, like an awful teacher.

And then two things happened that saved my day — and saved my career:

Another teacher found one of the letters a student had written. “This is NOT acceptable,” she said. And she named the behavior: “This is bullying. He has no right to treat you this way. If he were treating a student this way, he would be suspended. And it is even worse to treat an adult with this kind of gossip and unkindness.” I was stunned. I was being bullied. It had never occurred to me. I felt embarrassed, but liberated at the same time, like a truth had been illuminated. I felt grateful that she had named the behavior.

Then the principal came in. She was stern. I was a little afraid. How had I lost such control of a situation? I was sure she would criticize me.

“You are doing everything right,” she said. “You are teaching really well. He has no right to treat you this way and he is in BIG trouble!”
I almost cried. At that moment, I realized that  never, in any teaching job since my first one 25 years ago, had I seen a principal so fully support a teacher. I felt only gratitude.

Hearing such support, I felt completely empowered to seek new solutions. I saw Narcissus’s behavior as a challenge that could be solved with support, not as a sign of my own failure. It was an amazing feeling.
So the next day, I sought the help of the Speech and Language Pathologist. I didn’t know if she’d ever had a student who was hyperverbal and manipulative, or if Speech was meant to deal with such people at all. But I described to her the situation and what I had done to help him change his behavior so it did not disrupt class. And she pointed out that everything we had done so far with him was verbal reinforcement. It gave him the attention he craved. She suggested I use a nonverbal system to help him curb his behavior, and more importantly, that all the teachers use the same system with him in a consistent way. We began the next day.

The principal also modeled how she spoke with him: “I will speak now and you are to remain silent. Then it will be your turn to speak.” and then cut off the conversation. The result was beautiful. I did not tell him what we were doing that first day. I did not remind him of his behavior. I simply watched him and conducted my class, and ignore him, and at each misbehavior,  I put a button in a jar. At the end of the day, he and I counted buttons. He had accumulated 64 buttons in one hour by getting up and walking around, calling out, interrupting other kids, throwing things in the air, and generally being disruptive in a way no other child was being in class. After we counted buttons, I asked him, in order to give him some sense of choice, how many buttons he felt he should reasonably expect to accumulate in an hour. 20, he said. The other teachers disagreed: 10, they said. the limit would be 10. After that, he would be on detention for disruptions. I also added, I know you like to get “rewarded” for good behavior. We will recognize that, too. If you do something great — not just something expected — you will get a button in another jar.
During our next class, his behavior was much better — down to 30 buttons. The next day, 27. The next 13. the next 7, and finally, one day, he had no negative buttons. Only two — in the positive jar, for sharing his wonderful writing.

Each day after that, he would come into my class to share something beautiful he had written — something positive, something life-affirming, something that showed the ways that a gregarious person can contribute to the world. Over time, he  learned to curb his behavior and act more appropriately in class. As an adult, I am sure he will look back with gratitude on this small clipping of wings, as a time when someone finally found a way to say to him, “Enough.” and helped him learn to work with others in a healthier way.

No Bad Days in the Garden

One of the things I love most about teaching in the garden is finding critters. It’s amazing what kids see with their fine eyes — the tiniest creatures! This week, while we pulled weeds, one child found a stick insect no more than a centimeter long, as thin as a few strands of hair, crawling across dirt exactly the same color as the bug. On the underside of a leaf, I found a Green Lynx spider and her hatched egg sac with tiny babies. Worms! pill bugs; tiny centipedes. The garden is a thriving place!

One Month To Learn

In one month, setting up my own classroom for the first time ever, and losing it in the end, I learned…

How to create a classroom space, finally, that works — and that not every space can work for every class.

I learned that no matter what I set up, one child and one parent will love it, and one will hate it. And if I change it to please one, another will be disappointed.

I learned how to run really good Responsive Classroom morning meetings with greetings and activities, afternoon meetings with sharing and music and appreciations, and occasional class councils to work out difficulties.

I learned how to organize a long-term project-based learning project  based around students interests.

I learned a bit about how to manage high-sensory need students and autistic students.

I learned how to run a good math group based on Cognitively Guided Instruction principles.

I learned and practiced accurately assessing reading levels and writing levels, and how to start and maintain a portfolio of work that keeps track of what students are learning.

I learned that I am a wonderful singer and guitar leader with my students, and that they can partake in my joy of music.

I learned to use music to signal transitions and to make transition requirements clear.

I learned how to collect and organize student work.

I learned how to create wall displays that are not distracting to ADD kids.

I learned how to set up a library based on the real reading levels of my students and not what I think they would be.

I learned that I can create some really good, engaging literature-based projects that grab students’ imaginations.

I learned to create a schedule that works through flexibility and consistency.

I learned to ask friends and colleagues for help, and to avoid, when possible, the influence of negative people. And when they can’t be avoided, I learned that negative people can’t destroy me.

I learned that sometimes things are not fair and there is nothing you can do about it except maintain your own integrity and wholeness and walk away.

I learned that I have a need for boundaries and that I respect my own need and the needs of others for healthy boundaries, and that I can’t thrive in a place where boundaries are unclear or unhealthily intrusive or loose.

I learned that no matter what someone says to me, I can learn from them, but I don’t have to believe that their opinions are always correct. I have learned to seek the second opinions of people I trust.

I have learned that there are people out there who want to help me learn. And those are the people I can choose to surround myself with.

 

 

 

The Hopes and Dreams of Parents

Parents — and I am one, myself — have a hard time making changes. So when their child comes into my class after having spent years in the care of someone else, a rough patch often ensues. It’s true for me, too. I hate change.

The first two weeks of school are critical in developing a strong community in the classroom. Children are getting to know one another. Parents are getting to know one another. And everyone is getting to know the teacher. While many schools have a stock standard set of rules they pull out that are meant to apply to every classroom and every situation, I prefer using The Responsive Classroom’s collaborative rule making with children. The process involves helping children identify their hopes and  dreams for the year, having the class listen to these dreams and think about how they can support that child in achieving them, and then creating rules based on what will best create a community that supports learning in this way.

It can be a messy process. This year I discovered that part of the messiness is helping children identify dreams for the classroom, and dreams that they could actually achieve. Rather than, “I wish I were rich,” or “I dream of riding a pony to school,” a child might decide that they hope to understand how money works, or that they’d like to learn more about animals, horses in particular.

It is important for parents to identify their hopes and dreams for their children, too. Sometimes they can do this quite articulately. At other times, they may just feel fear and worry and protectiveness. But it is all based on a hope they hold dearly that their child will be valued, that their child will love to learn, and that their child will grow and thrive in school.

It is important to hear the hope behind words that sound like complaints,  the fear behind words that sound like parent criticism, the love hidden in words that ring in our ears as teacher and resonate in our hearts in a painful way. It’s not easy to do.

This morning and yesterday evening, I asked for my own husband, children and friends to give me words of encouragement before I went off to work to face those voices of fear and criticism. I felt their blessings resting in my chest, along with the ache of hurt. And I found I could say the right thing when I needed to, had courage when I needed to draw upon it, and felt supported enough to support these families in finding the love underneath their fear, and coming to a place of understanding and hope.

Open House, Open Hearts

Open House at a new school is always scary. You don’t know anyone and they don’t know you. Parents, children, teachers, administrators, all checking you out — the new kid on the block. I did not sleep for several nights  before, worried that I would not have everything ready in time, or that somehow I would be found to be lacking.

Instead, I found helpful colleagues with kind words, open hearts and down-to-earth advice. They confirmed my instincts and allowed me to trust myself. They smiled at me and understood my worries, and shared their own experiences. I found children who walked in shy and were delighted by the activities I had set up. I heard the sound of raucous laughter as children dove into the building challenge I offered them, rediscovered old classmates and met new ones. I saw children who smiled, collaborated, and were sdelighted  to be together again. And I met parents who asked insightful questions, wanted to know how they could help, and smiled upon leaving.

I

National Writing Project

Last week I finished a fellowship with the amazing, intense, life-changing San Diego Area Writing Project, part of the National Writing Project. Twenty teachers gathered for 3 1/2 weeks to study what works across the curriculum and across age-groups to teach people to write effectively. Topics ranged from blogging to sentence construction to using mentor texts, to creating a supportive environment for Writers Response Groups, to using graphic novels to spur writing in the classroom. It was very exciting.

One of the most amazing aspects of the training was meeting colleagues who work with all ages and in all settings, and finding so much in common, and such open hearts and minds. In our own writing response groups, we shared things we wrote, and received thoughtful feedback. Here is a poem I wrote to introduce the demonstration lesson of my colleague, Graciela, an amazing dual immersion Spanish-English teacher.

Graciela 

When you tell my story,

Tell them I am Graciela,

Graceful, grateful, blessings embodied

In dancing light and sun,

The ocean breeze blowing

In the clear, pure window

Of my soul.

 

Say that I am fully immersed

In my dual-immersion life,

Bouncing between worlds

For as long as I have lived –

Ventura – Jalisco – Brentwood

Mestizo-Mexican-American,

My name changing with each move –

Graciela – Grace — Graciela —

Until the lovely lilt of two languages

Lives on my tongue

Like the sweet taste

Of citrus.

 

Write that I am Chela

Cholula-Girl, Cuevita,

Cheeky cha-cha dancer,

Watcher of chick-flicks,

Snappy snowboarder soaring – and falling –

And picking myself up again –

And again,

A runner on the move,

Never giving up and always

Ready to try

Something new.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Say that I adore my daughters

So much it makes me weep,

My kind, creative wonders.

Tell them that Piglet lives in my mind —

That small warrior of worries —

But Yogananda, Gandhi and

Martin Luther King push my soul

To stand up tall, to live

And let live, To love, and let go.

 

When you write my story,

Tell them I am a fierce mama

To hundreds of students

Whose lives and learning

I have held in my arms.

Tell them my hands

Are like scales balancing

The needs of every child

To make sure no one

Is left out and all

Are equal. Tell them

I know how it feels

To be in their shoes –

Whether shiny or rough,

Too tight or just right.

 

When you sing my story,

Make the melody the sound

Of my daughters’ voices,

When you dance my story,

Let them know my hands swirl like swallows,

swooping and looping

Calligraphy in the air,

When you whisper my story

Make it a prayer

For all the world.

When you write my story,

Tell them my heart is as open

As the windows of my home,

That I live in Thanksgiving,

My eyes smiling in beauty,

Wonder and grace.

 

 

 

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