Sunday, December 14, 2014

The most important lesson ever

It's been a few weeks.  In fact, I was almost of the mindset not to blog again this week until my husband and I sat and chatted this morning about  how things were going this year.  After I rambled on and on for about ten minutes straight, he encouraged me to blog about it.  Either he thinks what I said is worth the read or he was tired of listening and thought maybe if I wrote about it I would shut up.  Or a combination of both.  :)

I have to tell you all, this year has been a ride so far.  Going back into the classroom was a challenge that I knew I could handle, but it wasn't something I wanted to handle.  I liked what I had been doing - supporting our students in their content areas and working with them in their intervention classes, going through school-wide data and making program change recommendations, and being a resource for our teachers who needed support in reaching their resistant readers.  But once I got back in front of a group of my own kiddos, life got amazing.  And it reminded me why I went into this business in the first place.  As a colleague of mine keeps gritting her teeth and saying, "It's all for the kids."  Any educator worth her salt today has to keep reminding herself of this because nobody is making this job easy.  Nobody.

My plan at the beginning of the year was to instill a sense of self-worth in all of our kiddos who either were performing out of fear or who weren't performing at all.  I wanted them to feel free to take risks and reach for success.  I knew it would be a challenge.  I knew I would have to work at it and tweak my approaches along the way.  I prayed it would just happen.  Well, to say it's been a challenge has been an understatement.  To say I've had to tweak my approaches is putting it mildly.  And I've needed a lot of prayer this year.  And a lot of Kleenex.

But what I'm seeing is kind of blowing my mind.

After spending a month at the beginning of the year learning about ourselves as learners - our learning styles, intelligences, learning types, interests, and even love languages, these kiddos now had the tools to advocate for themselves.  They have been given the gift of self-knowledge and have been helped to understand why they struggle with things and excel at others.  Why they can't shut up or sit still for forty minutes.  Why they hate PE or art or language arts.  When their high energy or chatterbox-ness is getting on my last nerve, instead of getting exasperated and directing frustration at them, I point out how one's interpersonal or kinesthetic intelligence is getting in the way of their learning and ask them how they can bring that strength into their learning.  I point it out as much as I can, we joke about how things are hard when we don't get served to our strengths and what we can do to communicate our needs to others.

What happens?  My kiddos work.  Not for a grade or for a ticket to buy things at the school store.  They don't get a "good job" at the end of the period, and I don't give them candy.  Heck, I don't even email home or send home postcards to tell mom and dad how proud I am.  But I do talk to each student as much as possible.  I give them the gift of my attention, and I point out what I see them doing.  And when it comes time for them to measure their growth, they get nervous about it and celebrate when they see the quantitative proof that they've worked and grown.  I'm proud of them.

It's funny that I didn't notice this growth until my husband and I started talking about it today.  But now that I'm reflecting, I wish there was a quantitative way I could "prove" that my approaches are creating more confident, happier kiddos.  I see it, and I hope their teachers and parents are seeing it too.

It says something when I have kiddos who "graduate out" of my class and choose to stay.  When I have students who ask if they can work on the eighth grade vocabulary rather than the seventh grade.  When, even while I'm working with a small group, I look over and see heads bent over interactive notebooks working or hands flying over desks of vocabulary matching activities - all by just saying, "Okay, go ahead to your first activity today.  You've got fourteen minutes until we switch."  There's no participation points or names on the board.  No way to keep track of who is working and who isn't.  I have students who come in to get their notebooks so they can take them to the library to check out a book on their list or to take it home and study their vocabulary.  We don't have homework, nor do I expect students to take their work home - and yet they're choosing to do this on their own.

So - go ahead - ask me. How is my year going?  It's a tough change, and I DO mourn the loss of what I was able to accomplish the last three years.  But I'd never ask for it to be different this year.  What I'm learning this year is going to be invaluable as I continue my research and work with students on intrinsic motivation.  And by the end of the year, I forsee dozens of my babies walking out of my classroom with their heads held higher and a lighter step because they were able to learn.  Not phonics or fluency or reading skills.  The most important thing in the world ever to learn.  About themselves.