“I hope you discover the value of community and the power of empathy. Though our learning journeys are unique, we all travel similar paths. When we come to realize that through our similar trails we share a bond, we begin to understand that we are not alone, that we can learn with others, that we can learn from others. When we connect with others, we learn. When we connect with others, we can understand. We will connect. We are a community.”
“Take a quick scan of the people in the room. Raise your hand if you know everyone’s name in this class.” I made this request in each of my five classes yesterday. And each time, no one could raise his/her hand. A few of the kids suggested they could name most, but the vast majority of us admitted we would miss more than we’d make. I asked them what that suggested about our community.
As many teachers do, I have my kids make “name tents” on day one. I don’t assign seats, so I don’t have a seating chart to assist my learning their names. So, we use the name tents for the first week. Knowing names is a top priority, a non-negotiable. A must. This year, I upped the ante. In response to the severe shortage of raised hands indicating our knowledge of names, I challenged my kids to know names along with me. I gave us till next Friday. But that’s not enough. Not even close. And I told them so.
We are going to learn a lot this year. A lot. I am going to push you to make the most of our opportunity together. And while the content of the course will occupy the majority of our learning experiences, it is not the most important thing we will learn together. Yes, syntax and rhetoric are important, and, yes, we will treat them as such, but they are secondary to what matters most: the people around us. Our worlds will always be full of important stuff, but they will also be full of people. And it is my belief that if we want to learn about the world and to learn about ourselves, we first have to focus on the people around us. So we, my young friends, will spend time each day learning about each other.
Yesterday, this is how I sold “Smiles and Frowns” to the kids. It is my intentional approach to daily community building, our entry task every day for the entire year. Here’s a link to a post explaining the approach in detail Relationships Are Not Accidents. Basically, each of us shares a smile, frown, or both from our school or personal lives. Importantly, each has the option to pass. I am not going to build bonds among us through force. So, I offer the option to pass if someone is not comfortable. A lot of kids passed yesterday. And why wouldn’t they? They are among strangers. And though it bums me out that we miss an opportunity to learn each time someone passes, not all learning is lost, for even if they are not sharing, they are listening. They are learning.
And so, we found a little discomfort yesterday in our travels. As I watched the kids’ responses to the roll out, I saw a mixed bag. *Rick rolled his eyes and shook his head. “I am not here to learn about the people in this class. I am here to learn about English.” *Sam slunk down in his chair, trying to hide. “Oh my gosh. All eyes on me. Just let me be anonymous.” *Sally smiled, sitting up in her chair. “Yes! I get to talk about me.” *Carla cocked her head, confused, looking at me like I was crazy. “We’re doing what?” And all sorts of responses in between. And that’s okay; it’s what I expected. It is a strange thing among strange people, so I will exercise understanding and patience as we move forward. At the end of the semester, I will make the name request again, but I will also ask how many could share something about each person in the room. I hope we find things less strange by then. *Names not real.
Moving on. As predicted, yesterday was a cluster with pictures. It took 40+ minutes each period, so we didn’t even come close to discovering what I’d hoped yesterday. And that’s just how it goes out on the trail. Things don’t always go as planned. And while I was a wee grumpy about it, I just adjusted our course, and we did what we could. Today will be no less “clustery” as we have Friday late start along with an hour-long pep con, resulting in only 35 minute classes today. Silly Syrie, you should know better than to plan so much for the first few days of school. Indeed, seems this is one “do better” that I will have to continue chasing.
Along today’s trail we will…
…build community with Smiles and Frowns
…complete our Wordles
…reflect in our Journey Journals
And that’s the plan. Funny that I haven’t given out any rules, grading policies, etc. Just working on building community. Oh, I guess I did share one “rule” out of necessity. Sarah asked if eating was allowed in class. Yes, Sarah. Always. We are on a journey, not a hunger strike. Eat away kid. Just pick up after yourself.
Have a great weekend, all.
Do. Reflect. Do better.