Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Three Truths...No Lie!

Today I am celebrating truthfulness. On three separate occasions within the span of just a couple of days, students chose to do what is right instead of what is convenient.

After reading the poem "Instantes," (here is a Spanish version: students had to interview three adults and record what the adult would do differently if he/she could return to a younger age. We discussed the answers aloud, each students sharing what their interviewees would have done.

"I would have studied to become a doctor."
"I would have played a sport in high school."
"I would not have sold my Mickey Mantle baseball card."

The discussions were enjoyable, and the students freely shared their responses. I congratulated and thanked them all.

After class, Charlie remained behind. "Señora, I forgot to do the assignment. I made up the answers based on what I think my parents would have said. And I remembered my grandfather telling me about the baseball card he had sold."

Charlie chose to confess the truth without prompting, regardless of the cost, because it was the right thing to do.

At the end of another class, Alex asked to talk to me. "Señora, I think you made a mistake in the grade book. You gave me more points than what you had on the rubric."

Alex chose to reveal a truth that would have been better and more convenient to have kept hidden. He is a hardworking student in a hardworking, competitive (class rank) class. Alex did it because it was the right thing to do.

Early in the morning on the weekend I received an email from Mike. He was disappointed at his grade for the first quarter and he wondered what had gone wrong, or what he could do. It would be his first "B" ever in a Spanish class, and he had missed an "A" by one percent.

I emailed him back, thanking him for emailing with the question, and telling him that I, too, was disappointed because I felt he could have done better. But, I offered him a "lifeline". "Please look back at the project rubric in your Google Drive folder. There are two sections where you have a very low score. Read over them and then let me know honestly if I have made a mistake. If so, I will adjust your grade."

A few hours later, Mike emailed me again. He wrote, "Señora, I see what I didn't do. I didn't share with or correct anyone's slide show...I never found time...I apologize for not paying closer attention to the details of the project and putting enough time in."

Mike chose to admit to a difficult truth, knowing that he was sacrificing a chance at a higher grade because it was the right thing to do.

Moments like these don't make the evening news; they aren't headlines in the paper either. But perhaps they should be. Wouldn't that be a refreshing change of pace?

So, what are my takeaways from these experiences?

  1. Truth and integrity still exist. Never, never, never give up or grow cynical. 
  2. Always believe in and encourage the best in your students.
  3. Some days this job is so incredible I feel like I should be paying to do it! 

I need to celebrate my students' honesty and integrity. Perhaps I should share the stories with my students and colleagues, but I need to do so in a way that does not embarrass them. That will take some creative thinking.

What stories keep you believing in your students?
How can you celebrate acts of truthfulness and integrity?
How have you demonstrated truthfulness and integrity before your students? your colleagues?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Taking a Walk with my Students

On Wednesday I decided that I needed to spend a little time one-on-one with some students. Although it was difficult for me to detach myself from all the "URGENT" tasks on my desk, I gathered student schedules and went for a walk.

They were some of the most well spent minutes of my week!

First stop: I borrowed Rosa from her computer class and we went for a walk. Rosa was so agitated in class the day before that she came without her materials, would not work or participate, and became combative with other students over minor interruptions. My statement to her was, "I was worried about you because you were so upset, and I wanted to make sure that you are okay. Is there anything I can do?"

Quickly, Emily shared concerns weighing on her, concerns that we would dismiss as "9th grade girl syndrome," but in her world, real, emotional, critical.

I didn't have any answers but I asked how I could help. Emily asked to have her seat moved. Easily done!

That day I moved Rosa. Thursday, Rosa was early to class, had her materials, completed her assignment, and participated in the class activities. She proudly showed me that she was ready for class, and I thanked her for her effort.

Second stop: Tito and I walked around a hallway while we discussed his abrasive comments to a fellow student in class the day before. I made sure that I understood he did not begin the conflict, but that he was incited by a comment I didn't hear. Then I asked if he was okay, considering that another student had insulted him. He assured me that he and the other student were "cool," they were just joking around.

Third stop: Julio was the other student involved in the harsh exchange of words. As we walked through the hall, he echoed Tito's sentiments. We discussed the potential harm of his comments, and he agreed that they were wrong. He apologized and I walked him back to class.

When Tito and Julio came to class that day, they took the time to speak with each other about everyday types of things. I think it was mostly to prove to me that their relationship was good. I was pleased and relieved.

The clock was ticking down, but I had one more student I really wanted to contact.

Fourth stop: I borrowed Lorenzo from his study hall and we went for a walk. We strolled casually around part of the school and then found a bench in the hallway where we could sit and talk. I have some suspicions: Lorenzo causes trouble because he has my class at the end of the day, because he is too tall to sit comfortably in the classroom desks, because he loves to speak and joke without thinking through what he is saying, because he is bored and not challenged enough.

Yes, he agreed each time. Then we talked about solutions.

More than anything I want him to know that I care. I want him to succeed. I like him as he is; he doesn't have to alter his personality to be likable. I believe in him. I will help him find ways to succeed.

It's okay to move to a desk separated from others so there is room to stretch; it is okay to stand up or move around a bit; it is okay to talk and joke with friends, at the right time and in the right way. Let's work out what those things look like.

When Lorenzo came to class today, we moved his seat and found moments when he could stretch and move. We implemented some other changes. Truthfully, everything isn't "perfect," but that's okay. We work on it together. Tomorrow he's coming for a detention and we're going to have a hands-on, movement and task-oriented time. I even challenged him to bring a friend with him.

So, what are my takeaways from the day?

  1. Students have stories. I can't assume that I know already, I need to listen.
  2. Walking around the school is far less intimidating than meeting at a desk or in an office. The students seem less defensive and more willing to talk.
  3. I need to guard my students' dignity and identity; they are not criminals, delinquents, or objects of my wrath. 

I need to take more walks with my students, whatever the reason. I will try to make this a regular practice!

How do you build relationships with students?
How can you address concerns with students while affirming their value and your belief in them?
What demands keep you "tied to your desk"?
Will you consider taking a walk with a student today?


(This blog is a conversation between my good friend (and instructional coach), Mrs. Stephanie Sandrock, and myself. As is often the case, I...