Too often, in the crush of things to do, I need to be reminded to slow down and recognize all the things that work in harmony and make this thing I do, this job, this passion, a place where I can grow and learn. On top of that, sometimes I need to lift my head out of the water and gaze around at the horizon and see both where I’ve come from and where I’m headed.
The easiest way to gain that perspective is by showing gratitude.
I try to recognize and acknowledge those that I am grateful for and show them that gratitude regularly. However, I’m not nearly as conscious about with my students.
I heard of a colleague who for Thanksgiving wrote a little note of thanks to each of her students, those things matter. After hearing about it, I’ve tried to make a concerted effort to show gratitude more often. Especially to my students as it fosters an open, kind community.
It’s always interesting when I offer my sincere gratitude to students for something specific, it’s a visual change in their body language. It changes their tone.
One of my considerations is to identify the moments when I’m getting frustrated or tired and that’s the moment when I need to offer gratitude. To the student who is challenging me the most, the perspective I gain by looking through the lens of gratitude, changes my reaction.
The next consideration is that my students come from different contexts before they walk into the room. I need to recognize and have gratitude for those other influencers, my colleagues and their parents. I try to offer gratitude to my colleagues who help establish the culture in the school. I have tried to maintain a habit of writing a thank you note to colleagues who go beyond. My next step, might be, to take that idea and send e-mails of thanks to parents, for their children’s behaviour. All it does is foster a positive relationship.
Today, right now, in this moment, who are you thankful for? Have you told them?
Please feel free to share with me, your thoughts on what the Little BIG Things of Education.
“Mr. Kemp, what’s your opinion, your real opinion?”
I hear it often enough. I wait to hear their thinking and then purposely argue the other side. I don’t like the term the “devil’s advocate” because it appears inherently negative, when in fact, it engages. Sometimes there is nothing more engaging then waging battle. Intellectual battle.
Now, my wife and friends will probably tell you that this is nothing new for me, I constantly and consistently argue “for the sake of argument”. But it is even more pronounced.
Students catch on quick enough that I’ll argue both sides. They get frustrated with that, but naturally, it goads them. I like to think I don’t care what you think, just that you think. I’ve found myself arguing both sides in the same argument. Students love that.
So what’s the catch? I think students like to argue, especially with a willing adult adversary because it doesn’t happen often. They are often shut down before they get going.
But here’s the real catch when playing devil’s advocate. I say little. (Okay, I try to say little). I let the students do most of the persuading, the debating. It’s a well-timed, well-placed question or comment that can fire them up again.
The question is, what side are you arguing on today?
There is always that kid. The one kid who is immune to my wit and humour. You know the kid, the kid at the back of the room, perpetual frown on their face, eye rolls for every activity, head drops to the desk in boredom five minutes into the class. This kid walks in to every classroom expecting to be bored. She doesn’t give the teacher, the class, the subject the benefit of the doubt. She is closed to the impending experience.
Mainly, she doesn’t laugh and expects judgment.
There is always one.
I throw every joke, wit, smile, and opportunity at her, trying desperately to see the crack in the wall. She wants to engage. They all want to engage.
Then I turn on my music. I let the music of my life (The Tragically Hip, Great Big Sea, Dan Mangan, Matt Andersen, Danny Michel and Bruce Guthro) fill the room as students walk in. Music chips away at the wall.
I always ask about the earbuds in the ears. I want to know.
Then, I ask to listen.
This summer it was dub step. A musical genre, I’ve never heard of, that insists on deep bass and electronic rhythm with few, if any, lyrics. Not necessarily, my thing. But I listened.
No judgement. Just my ears dedicated to the music. The soundtrack of her youth. The soundtrack of her survival.
And then things are different.
Engagement is now an option for her. It is easier for her.
We attach music to who we are, especially as we struggle with the question. To listen to the music is to appreciate the person.
What else would you want to listen to?
Please feel free to share with me, your thoughts on what the Little BIG Things of Education.
I continue to try to create a student-centred learning environment. I do my best at ensuring the learning of my students not only drives the choices in the class but drives all decisions that are made at school.
However, what I learn is as important as what they learn.
I don’t mean this in some cheesy “my students teach me something every day” kind of way. I don’t mean in some “every day I learn something new” way I mean, I need to be an active learner.
I need to understand the struggle of learning first hand. Not through nostalgia. Not through faded memories.
I need to hate it when I get something wrong and then resist picking it back up. I need to feel accountable to my future and take a risk anyway. I need to seek out an expert and be willing to admit my limitations. I need to hear feedback, ignore and deny it at first, and then learn to accept it later. I need to produce. I need to create. Now.
If I’m not actively learning something, I’m just pretending to be a co-learner. I’m pretending to get what they are going through. I’m merely going through the paces of helping them wade through learning.
On top of all that, being an active learner is the only way to be able to look a student in the eye, tell them you don’t have the answer and take the leap.
Learning is a leap. It is a prioritizing of time. It is about putting time into something you aren’t good at, which for most of us, is a devastating concept.
Now all of this is not to say that we need to be in school. In fact, I think formal education skews our ability to see learning through the necessary lens. We fall into the game of formal education.
Instead, we need to be involved in authentic inquiry. The best teachers are always learning.
So, I guess the question remains, what are you learning?
I believe that classroom culture is of the utmost importance. It defines the learning. Some people would argue that classroom culture is determined within the first week. Some say, “you must set it early.” I tend to disagree.
Classroom culture in my estimation is constantly in flux. Events that happen within the context continually change culture. I think surprise is one of the most powerful tools of classroom culture.
Although routine is important to a student’s ability to deal with the ‘learning’ work, the unease of not knowing what will happen raises awareness and I believe engagement.
This speaks to the idea that lessons should not be planned weeks in advance. Not for the reason that you might not get through the material, but because surprise is as powerful for the teacher as it is for the student. Surprise lets teachers be in the moment.
Sometimes the surprise comes when a student who thinks he’s going to be in trouble finds the teacher laughing alongside him.
Sometimes the surprise comes when the expectation is altered mid-stream.
Sometimes the surprise is nothing but a change in the routine.
I think by allowing for surprise, using surprise, and maintaining the will to be surprised, classroom culture will be rich, trusting and effective for learning.
In school, we love to celebrate. Holidays, aberrations in the weather, sporting events, art displays, we celebrate with all our might. On most days, I think we celebrate too much. I think we focus too often on rewards, thinking the celebration of mediocrity is a good way of motivating our students.
However, there is one place we must remember to celebrate. When students are wrong. We don’t do it.
But we need too.
By celebrating, students when they are wrong we are building up capacity for making mistakes. We are building our acceptance and tolerance of being wrong.
By engaging in wrong conversations, we help our students understand the power of error. That learning needs errors. That being wrong shows that you are in the process of learning.
Being wrong exists in the realm of creativity.
Being wrong exists in the realm of innovation.
Being wrong is original thought.
When we get rid of the fear of failure, we get rid of the fear of learning.
So, tomorrow, when a student tries something new and is gloriously wrong, celebrate it.
No matter a person’s age, the brightness of your eyes is your first impression. Every day.
That is to say, do your eyes light up when your students enter the room?
The easiest reflection of your enthusiasm, caring and understanding is in how bright your eyes light up when they enter the room.
This is something that sometimes needs to be on purpose. Probably the more you do it, the easier it becomes to do it without thinking.
However, the brightness of your eyes is not just for first impressions, it is for every impression.
When I introduce a book I love to my class, my eyes light up. When I talk about words, my eyes light up. The brightness of my eyes indicates that it is okay to love and be excited about learning.
I try to think about the brightness of my eyes even when I’m dealing with poor decisions. Indications that what they do are not reflections of who they are.
So it is simple, allow the brightness of your eyes shine.
I just finished reading Tom Peters’ book, “The Little BIG Things: 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence” which he outlines a variety of small things that people can do in business and in life that make huge positive impact on customers and colleagues.
A few of them I was stymied how I could relate it to education. But most of them, there was a direct link. Things like:
“So quantify quality all you want (please do, please do!) … but don’t forget that quality is equally — nay,primarily — determined by something that is elusive, mysterious, emotional, indefinable. And…in the eye of the beholder.”
“Most of us believe in and spend our time doing on-the-cheap, rapid experimentation, picking off the “low-hanging fruit,” muddling our way through big change.”
“Keep the new inputs pouring in; they’re the best path to a sustaining top-line obsession, marked by a constant string of new products and services. … That is, ‘surrounded by new inputs-ideas-people’ becomes ‘the new normal.’ It becomes odd not to be bombarded by new ideas and their proponents.”
“We became labor because they stamped us, ‘You are labor.’ We forgot that we are entrepreneurs.”
“As information and intelligence become the domain of computers, society will place new value on the one human ability that cannot be automated: emotion.”
“implementation of anything is about 95 percent politics.”
“It is not enough to do your best — you must succeed in doing what is necessary.”
“She or he who tries the most stuff — wins!”
“You can’t be a serious innovator unless and until you are ready, willing and able to seriously play. ‘Serious play’ is not an oxymoron; it is te essence of innovation.”
“I believe that the Mother of [Almost] All Innovation is …fury. Abiding anger at the way things are … coupled with an ‘irrational’ (statistically inappropriate) determination to beat back the innumerable protectors of the status quo and find and implement a better way.”
This books struck me that being an effective educator is a balancing act of ‘soft’ skills. But it also made me wonder…
What are the little BIG things specific to education?
What are the little things we can do / improve on, as a system or as a professional to more greatly impact student learning?
This will be the beginning of a blog series…stay tuned.
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