Sunday, October 25, 2009

Taking Time to Remember the Important Stuff

Now-a-days there is a specialist for everything in a school. As a "regular" education teacher some days I wonder how will I ever get through the curriculum I am supposed to when there are so many interruptions. Between students being pulled out of the class, a specialist coming into the class, going to chorus, band, or strings during the school day, there isn't much time left for students to learn new concepts.

As I meticulously do my planning for the week, I think about how I can keep the students engaged and inspired to learn. More importantly, I try to think about how I can inspire them to make good choices, treat themselves and those around them with respect, how to motivate them to be an active learner and to take responsibility for their learning.

During the school day, I try to take time to remember the important stuff. Like encouraging the students to reflect on their beliefs, their learning, their actions, their thoughts, their choices and the world around them.

At the end of my school days, I like to reflect on what I did to remember the "important stuff." As I try to start my day off during our "moment of silence," I remind my self of what kind of teacher I want to be that day, what kind of person I want to be and who I want to be for and to my students.

Even though there are so many interruptions throughout our school day, I believe that if I remember the "important stuff" it will not matter how much time I have spent with my students. It will be how I spent my time with my students that is important in the end.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Power of Empowerment, Empathy and the Strength found in Numbers

One day this past school week, my students came together and were empowered to take control of a situation.

One of my students bullied another one during their lunch. I am not present during their lunch time. As soon as my class returned to our room, one of my students informed me that someone was crying.

Usually, right after lunch I read our "read aloud" story. I asked one of my students to fill in for me while I addressed what had happened at lunch.

Out in the hall, I found out that the "victim's" personal notebook was taken and the other student refused to give it back. The notebook apparently had personal notes in it and the victim's privacy was being threatened. After many firm requests and teasing from the bully, the notebook was finally given back.

After speaking to the victim, whom was clearly upset, I then called the student who did the "bullying" out into the hall. I sent the "victim" to the lav to wash his face and to have a few minutes to himself.

After strongly encouraging the "bully" to write on a piece of paper what he did, why it was wrong, and why he won't do it again, I returned to the class. During the time he was writing in the hall, I sat to read for a few minutes. The "victim" had already returned to our class, but was still clearly upset. Ironically, the theme of the chapter we were reading was all about "empathy." As I wrapped up the chapter, the bully returned to our class. Considering the context of the chapter and the incident at lunch, this was the perfect opportunity for a meaningful whole class discussion.

Remembering what one of my students had written about in her reflection journal early in the day, I called on her to ask "What was this chapter's theme?" Refreshing her memory and encouraging her to think about what she has written about, she smiled and said, "Empathy."

This led the whole class conversation, during which many students contributed to. It was great. Next I asked, "How can we relate this to what has happened today?" Mind you that all of the students were well aware of what happened during lunch.

During this meaningful conversation, the victim was still having a hard time to pull himself together. So I called him to come up to talk to me. I could see he was still upset, so I asked if he wanted a few more minutes to himself. He said, "Yes." I allowed him to go out in the hall to sit in one of our hall desks.

Right after that I wrapped up the whole class discussion, which touched upon topics like being a family, repsect, how we have to be together for 180 days, 6+ hours a day, empathy, thinking before acting, how one's actions can effect the whole group, etc.

My last question to my students was "Who is going to go get "student's name" so he knows that we care about him?" One by one all of my students got up and walked out to the hall to make him feel better. It was very moving. Even the one that did the bullying went out there.

I feel that the students were provided an opportunity of empowerment where they could take control of what had happened. The chance to demonstrate their empathy. They weren't told to do anything. Instead, they were asked then they chose to get up.
I sat back and watched.

Needless to say the student came back in and was comforted.

The next day I noticed a special smile on the boy's face upon entering the class in the morning.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Please Stay Standing for a Moment of Silence?

This is only my second year as a teacher, but I have been very disciplined to take notice of all the important little apsects of the day that can make or break a nurturing environment. By nurturing I mean an environment that fosters a safe learning environment where meaningful life skills and academic learning occurs.

Every morning two sixth grade students lead the whole school through the Pledge of Allegiance,our school pledge, and miscellaneous announcements over the intercom. It is what the students say right after the pledges; "Please stay standing for a moment of silence" that has made me question what the students think this really means.

Last year I didn't say anything to anyone about it. I would just stand there and personally make a mental note about what kind of day I wanted to have and that I was thankful for having a job as a teacher.

But today I couldn't take it any more and I had to say something. After mentioning my concern to a few teachers, I had a conversation with my class. Since it is my students that take turns with another 6th grade class to make the announcements, I felt that it was a neccessary conversation. I need to mention that every time the announcements have been made the "moment of silence" literally has lasted about 2 seconds. It has almost been comical because I can't even gather my thoughts before the students say "please be seated."

To lead off the whole class discussion I first asked my students, if they knew what or who has given them the right to sit in their desk and to learn? I was pleased to hear one of my students say that it is because of the US soldiers. This led to me ask, what do you think the moment of silence after the pledges is for? The students just sat there and stared at me. So I asked more questions to get them to come to the realization that it is really about thinking about our freedom, those that have sacrificed themselves for our freedom and safety, maybe our faith, a moment to reflect on what we are thankful for or what kind of day "I" want to have.
After our discussions we came to a concensus that who ever does the announcements, they need to count 7 seconds so everyone can have enough time to do one of the choices we came up with.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Challenging Students to Think for Themselves

Throughout any given school day, many students in my class ask questions that they could positively answer for themselves. It is apparent that many of them have always had others answer these kinds of questions right away without even giving the individual an opportunity to think for themselves. When my students ask me a question, I tell them to stop and evaluate what they are asking me. Then I ask them their question or a closely related one. They usually smile and answer their own questions. This encourages them to think on their own. I also let them know that since they can usually figure out the answer on their own, they are not giving themselves credit by asking someone else. They discount their ability to be a problem solver.

Every time I hear a student say, "That was easy," I correct them by suggesting that instead of saying "That was easy," they need to say "I am good at this/that." This encourages them to give themselves credit for being good at something instead of minimizing their ability. Also, when they say something is easy, they could discount someone else in the class because maybe other students are not good at it. Therefore, if they hear someone else say that was easy, then they will feel bad about themselves because if it is easy, why can't they do it? Even though we have only been in school for about 4 weeks, students are now encouraging other students to say, "I am good at this." This is nice to hear.

"Use your problem solving skills," is something I say often. Being accountable for their own learning is another topic for discussion in my class. When students are accountable for their own learning, they are encouraged to ask questions when they don't understand a new concept or idea. One of my mottos is to "Ask questions if you don't understand something." Motivating my students to also advocate for themselves is something else I try to do in my class. They should learn how to advocate for themselves to get the most out of their education.

With the internet, enabling parents, and a generation of people that rely on a quick answer, we must nurture a learning environment that indirectly forces students to think for themselves to maximize learning on an individual basis.

We need to foster a learning environment where our students "OWN IT." They need to internally own what they are learning, thinking, doing. It can't be the teachers, but the students must own whatever it is for true meaningful learning to occur. The way to do this is to force them to answer their own questions, stop allowing them to be day dreaming in the classroom about what they might be doing in the future or what they could be doing, and force them to acutally believe that they can do whatever it is. Now or in the future.