If you are not busy…

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My week started with an e-mail from a High School Lead Teacher with this title:  If you are not busy…  I was fully prepared for request for me to complete another task.  Instead, I received this e-mail:

If you’re not busy this afternoon, I tried something new Friday, and my Honors students are coming in today to share their own Bag of Miscellany.  This comes from the last paragraph of Zora Neale Hurston’s autobiography essay that we read in class—she saw so much of who she was inside under her own brown paper bag that not everyone around her saw.  So, I assigned students to come in with 3 miscellaneous items that show/tell something about who they are, but we may not ‘see’ this on the outside.

4th block begins at 1:24, and it literally will only take 15-20 minutes because I am only going to have half the class share because we need to further out work on our argumentative essay.  Anyway, I know you’re a big fan of techniques in building a respectful classroom, and I see this extension activity as just that.

With an e-mail like that, I pushed things around to see this.  Luckily, I brought my favorite camcorder.  I recorded one of the most powerful moments I have ever experienced in a classroom.  My breath still stops as I think about this day.   To think I could have said no and I would not be the wiser.

First let me describe what happened that day, the teacher shared her 3 things.  First, to model how to do present and secondly to share what was in her bag.  She was authentic about her items and her students were able to see her as a person.   One of the profound statements she said is “what you don’t see in me is that I am also struggling at home…”

Then the students came up to share.  The first student tried to play it cool and down play his work. Of course, this teacher made sure that he knew that it would be his best and that is all she was asking for.  The students came up and shared some personal things.  They discussed struggles with abuse, death of a parent and homelessness.  At the same time, other students shared more stereotypical high school things.  No matter what a person shared, it was accepted with respect and gratitude.  The teacher thanked each student for sharing and gave validation.  I was so inspired that I wanted to dig in with the students to figure out why this happened.

As I interviewed these students, I asked them about why they felt safe to share such personal things. Certain themes came out.

  • Student Voice– All of her students discussed that she forces students to express their opinion and then they are heard.  When they share, they will be listened to.  Most talked that it was a okay to have a different opinion because she did not try to sway you to her opinion.  It was heard and acknowledged.
  • Models Expectations– Students talked about how she treats everyone kindly and is trustworthy.  She also share her experiences as it impacts the learning.
  • Relationships– One student remembers that the first thing that came out of her mouth was a joke instead of a rule on the first day of school.  They talked about how she spent time at the beginning making sure that everyone knew each other. She makes them work in various pairs.  They said she liked them as a person not just as a student.

What does that mean to me?  If I want to create a community of teacher leaders, I need to focus on these 3 things.

  1. Ask and listen.
  2. Model learning and working out loud.
  3. Focus on the relationship first.

Am I there yet?  No, but I will be.

Thanks Angela Staber for being brave, trying something new and inviting me to see it.  I am honored that I got share special moment with you and your students.

Read more about my reflections here.

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