“Thanks”

This post will be short. Practically a tweet in the blogging world.

But there’s something I’ve been doing, for about 10 years now, and I think I need to share it.

It’s simple, really. But has framed most professional interactions I’ve had for a decade.

I say thank you.

Meeting with a student? End with a thank you.
Meeting with a colleague? End with a thank you.
Meeting with a parent? End with a thank you.

What am I thanking them for, exactly? Their time. Their attention. Their energy. Their ideas. Their willingness to work with me.

Sometimes, the thank you is very natural. Someone is doing something for me, so I thank them.

But sometimes, it’s the exact opposite: I’m doing something for them. And I thank them.

To this point: nobody has thought it weird. Most have probably not noticed. Certainly, there have been times when I haven’t said thank you. I’m not batting 1.000.

And while I like to think it’s helped others have a more positive view of me, that is not very likely. I mean, it’s a throwaway phrase sometimes, so others may not even notice it.

But for me, it’s been a reminder. Every interaction I have, someone is giving me something: their time, their advice, their work. Something. It has helped me be mindful of what others have done for me, in every interaction of every day.

I hope this has helped me better appreciate those around me and better serve those entrusted to my care. I know it certainly hasn’t hurt.

Thanks for reading.

Visiting My Room Too Early…

entering

I went back and it had only been a week and a half since the last day of school.  I was only going to use the laminator in the workroom and head right back out the front door.  I was waiting for the laminator to warm up and got curious.  I began wondering what the room looked like now?  Had anything been cleaned yet?  Was everything out in the hallway?  It hadn’t been that long since I left and I didn’t really want to know the answers to any of these questions but I took a walk down the hall to room 127 while the laminator warmed up.

I work really hard at the end of the year to finish up on our last teacher work day.  I put the room to rest, my work to rest, and close the door.  For years I’ve been under the assumption I do this to rush home and be a full time mother to my three girls.  I love being with them full time.  I was completely surprised to learn this may not be the only reason I put my room to rest, my work to rest, and close the door.

As I rounded the bend in my hallway I saw doors open in some rooms before mine and things shifted a bit but things weren’t out in the hallway and rooms empty.  I kept walking even know I knew things were in the same place as when I left.  I walked in and it felt all out of sorts.  A few physical things had been moved.  My carpet might have been cleaned and then I froze.  Strange feelings surfaced.  I felt alone.  I started envisioning my students working collaboratively at the tables.  I started seeing the books and writing/creating tools on the shelves as they should be.  I started to feel lonely and creepy at the same time.  This is my space and yet it felt all wrong.

It felt all wrong because I was hanging on to what and who I had.  I think putting my room to rest, my work to rest, and closing the door has done more than let me be a full time mom.  It’s let me savor the end of the school year with a community I came to adore.  It’s let me read professional books and connect with others on social media with open eyes and for myself.  Maybe having time to think on my own without student faces in front of me gives me a clearer space for thinking ahead.  I think summers are more than trips to the pool and physical rest.  I think we need time to process the year and put to rest what is behind us.  I think space away from my classroom has let me find time to open my heart and thinking to a new set of students.

 

Recess Baseball Club: Season 2 (The Sugar Beets Edition)

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”  – Helen Keller

Two years ago I started a recess baseball club at Hemmeter Elementary School.  It was a way for me to share my passion for baseball with the students while also building relationships.  When kids see their principal in a t-shirt, shorts, and Detroit Tigers baseball cap, it allows them to see you through a different lens.  I first wrote about recess baseball club in the following blog post:

https://classroomcommunities.com/2017/09/09/building-relationships-in-unexpected-ways-the-story-of-recess-baseball-club/

I noticed that sometime around the beginning of April, the kids were buzzing on the playground about baseball.  Not a day would go by that someone didn’t ask, “Are we doing recess baseball club again this year?” I set the dates for each day in May and decided to see if I could find some community support to help with recess baseball this year.  A friend suggested contacting a new Collegiate Summer Baseball team that had just formed in Saginaw, the Saginaw Sugar Beets. I was hoping that we could get them to come out for one recess baseball game to play with the students. I knew the students would think it was awesome to play with some real college baseball players.  The community has amazing potential to provide wonderful experiences to students, all you have to do is just reach out and ask.

I met with a representative from the Sugar Beets the following week.  We talked about the team coming to Saginaw and how they really wanted to put roots in the community.  They wanted to be more than just a local baseball team; they wanted to help grow a love for baseball with kids in the community as well.  I told him about our recess baseball club and asked if the players would be willing to visit for a day to play with the students. He loved the idea, but asked if we would be interested in having the Sugar Beets more involved.  Of course I was!

After a 45 minute brainstorming session, ideas for a way to form an awesome partnership between the Sugar Beets and Hemmeter Elementary were created.  The Sugar Beets agreed to send players to every single recess baseball club game in May. The students were so excited for the first day, and the Sugar Beet players didn’t disappoint.  I was immediately impressed with how well the players connected with the students. They took time to talk to each student. They would talk about video games, school work, and (of course) baseball.  They were always positive and genuinely interested in each student and the students loved talking to them. The following two interactions impressed me the most and really show the great community and school partnership that was formed during this experience.  

A kindergarten student was swinging at pitch after pitch, but the result was miss after miss.  The kindergarten student told him, “I never hit the ball. I haven’t hit it once in my tee ball games yet.” The Sugar Beet pitcher came over to the player and asked him his name and where he played tee ball.  He showed him how he was chopping at the ball and explained in kid-friendly language why chopping made it hard to hit the ball. He corrected his stance and had him take some level practice swings. He asked the student when his next tee ball game was before going back to pitching.  Sure enough, after a couple more misses, the student started hitting the ball fairly consistently. Two days later, I heard the player call the student over, by name, and ask him how his tee ball game went the night before and if he got a hit. He did. The Sugar Beets players see over 200 students during their time at recess baseball club.  The fact that he remembered the student’s name and the day of his next tee ball game shows how invested the players were in the students.

recess baseball2

During the same week, I watched another Sugar Beet player working one on one with a student on pitching.  The student told him he was going to be pitching for the first time ever in his Little League game. The player took the time to show him some tricks of the trade to help his first experience be a successful one.  After the practice, the Sugar Beet player that was working with him asked me where South Little League was located because if he got done with a meeting early, he wanted to go watch the student pitch. This Sugar Beet player was going to watch a student pitch in his Little League game.  That is the powerful bond that can be formed when you build community and school relationships. Can you imagine that students excitement when a Sugar Beet player showed up to his Little League game?

The Sugar Beet players had such a great time at recess ball club that they offered to do some after school camps for the students. The camps provided fun, high-quality instruction on the basics in softball and baseball.  At the end of camp, I was blown away when the Sugar Beets said they had a surprise for the students. They provided every student that participated in the camp with a Sugar Beets t-shirt, bubblegum, and two tickets to the first Sugar Beets game.  Furthermore, they gave the students a code so they could get $4 tickets to all Sugar Beets games during the season. All of this was done as a complete surprise. The organization said the players had enjoyed their time so much that they wanted to do something nice for the kids and were so excited to see the kids they had gotten to know over the past month at the games cheering them on.  

recess baseball

Recess baseball club continues to be an experience the kids look forward to each year.  I am so glad that I reached out to the Saginaw Sugar Beets to form a community partnership this year.  It has been a great relationship for all of us. This wonderful experience already has me thinking about more relationship building we can do next year in the community.  These partnerships provide experiences that we will never forget.

Some Summers

The summers of my childhood were filled with
Hawaiian Punch popsicles and
Lemonade stands
Polka-dot ruffle-butt swimsuits
Leaping through sprinklers
Inflatable kiddie pools filled with icy water from the green garden hose
Sundresses and pigtails
Scraped knees and
Care Bear bandages
Watching Mom’s soap opera
Digging in the garden with Dad
Petting worms
Itchy grass
Potato bugs
Tree climbing
Hill rolling
Bike riding
Roller skates and jump ropes
Singing on the back stoop
Sidewalk chalk dust up to my elbows
YMCA Day camp
Girl Scout equestrian camp
JCC Jewish camp
Neighborhood block parties
Burgers on the grill
The ice cream man. THE ICE CREAM MAN!
Wiffle ball with the big red Mickey Mouse bat
Sweltering Brewers baseball games
Frigid put-your-sweatshirt-on-in-the-house air conditioning
Road trips to see
Mountains
Deserts
Canyons
Parks
Prairies
Oceans

My summers felt endless.
I felt carefree, creative, busy.
I couldn’t wait for summer to begin.

As teachers, we quickly learn that many of our students do not look forward to summer at all, the way some of us did as children. While some miss the companionship of their classmates, daily routines, and their teachers, others know that summer brings uncertainty, anxiety, disruption, and instability.

Their summers feel endless.
They feel anxious, bored, overloaded.
They can’t wait for summer to end.

Some children, anticipating change, need extra hugs, reassurances, and positive mindset coaching.

But for those who dread summer because they do not know where their daily meals will come from, cannot afford summer camp, return to respite care as foster children, worry for their safety, lack books in their home or a library within walking distance…these months away from the insulation of schools only raise anxiety instead of inducing relaxation.

These are the children who have started to cling. To worry. To whine. To act out. To cry. To argue. To resist. To build walls. To withdraw. They push away so the leaving doesn’t feel so hard. They fall apart because their million separate pieces feel safer at school than their whole, anywhere else.

Notice them now. Acknowledge them now. Help them with how to move on. Tell them that it may not feel like it, but summer will eventually come to an end. Show them that they will always be in your thoughts.

Send them into their summers with hope.
Love them now.

Spend your time now until the last day of school to
Read more aloud in class
Build summer TBR (to be read) lists
Check out classroom library books for students to take home and return next year
Teach families how to keep summer reading love burning
Talk about the value of a library card
Connect with your kids on Goodreads
Embark on literacy passion projects and studio time to pursue writing ideas
Give students the gift of their very own book (Scholastic Reading Club $1 books!)
Share your school or personal email so your kids can reach out over the summer
Decorate new Writer’s Notebooks: blank, fresh, and full of possibility
Build idea jars with writing prompts, thoughts, and inspirations to take home
Remind students that a good book can take them to
Mountains
Deserts
Canyons
Parks
Prairies
Oceans
And beyond, in their minds, in case they want to go somewhere, but need to stay here at home for the summer.

On the last day of school, they will leave your care, and know that they were, and are, loved.

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Oh, the Humanity!

Last week, I wrote a post that ended on a low note. A sad note. Some responded and said it was realistic. I think it’s all of this. I do want to take a moment to say that the most extreme examples given were hypotheticals, and fortunately not a reality I’m facing right now. But many of the other examples were real situations from my teaching career.

The notion that sometimes, we act in ways that, from the perspective of some students, appears to disenfranchise students. In ways that actually harms the community we try to build and protect.

I charged myself with writing a post about hope in these situations. Perhaps a post about moving forward.

I don’t know if this post will do that. But I will try.

This week, the President of the United States of America said, referring to undocumented immigrants (and likely specifically MS-13 gang members), “These aren’t people. These are animals.”

The internet, as the internet does, exploded. “He’s calling people animals!” “Are you really defending MS-13?” And what was lost in all the divisiveness was every aspect of humanity: ours, those we disagree with, and yes, the gang members being referred to.

But the truth of the matter is that every human being is a person. While there are reasonable disagreements over when personhood begins and when it ends, I think we can all agree that, at the very least, once a baby is born, they are a person until they are brain dead. There isn’t anything they can do to change that.

To repeat: there isn’t anything we can do to no longer be people.

But this isn’t a morality blog. It’s not a religious blog. It’s an education blog. But for me, those are all wrapped up in each other. Because what I know is that every single human being who comes into my classroom, my school, my community, is a person.

Even those who deny or repress the personhood of others.

That we are people is the thing that truly brings us all together. That is the essence of our communities.

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Photo by DrewMyers – Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License https://farm3.staticflickr.com/2286/2211382500_60061ce422_b.jpg

So. What does that mean when it comes to situations where student groups declare supremacy of race, gender, or sexuality? When students are actively oppressing other students?

It provides us the basis of the conversation. But the conversation cannot go “hey, Student A, you’re dehumanizing Student B, and I can’t allow that.” Ever been told you’re dehumanizing someone? I haven’t, but I can’t imagine it gets taken very well.

The conversations need to start with understanding. “No, I cannot let your group meet on school campus. Yes, I realize you’ll be talking to the administrators. Yes, I understand you want to hire a lawyer and you feel your free speech rights are being trampled upon. But what I really want to know is why you feel so passionately about this cause. Tell me what it means to you.”

Listen. Converse. Humanize the student with whom you disagree. Stand firm in your decision, but talk with them. It’s easy to protect your students from attacks. They’re our babies. But it’s also important to respect and treat as people our students doing the attacking. Because they’re our babies, too. And no matter what, they all have to learn. And all means all.

Now, as I said, these most extreme examples are hypotheticals. So let me make this real.

2016 US Presidential campaign. I had a group of students who would chant, in the middle of class, “Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump!” It was easy for me to have them stop, because it was inappropriate to chant anything in the middle of Statistics class, let alone what had been used as a divisive, racist chant in schools elsewhere.

But I also talked with them. I wanted to know: why did they support Trump? What was the appeal? I wanted to know, but I also wanted to let them know that I hear them. I disagree, and there are things I won’t allow, but I hear them. I see them. I value them as people. So we talked. Mostly, I listened. The chants mostly stopped, and the learning continued.

After the election, a student tossed a word I’d rather not say here around in the hallway. A blend of a political leaning and a slur for someone with a cognitive impairment. The discipline was easy: that’s not an appropriate term to use, and it therefore had consequences. But I talked with the student. I let him know why I felt that term was not okay, and I asked him why he used it. What motivated it? I wanted him to know that I hear him (literally, in this case). There are things I won’t allow, but I hear him. I see him. I value him as a person. We talked. He apologized, and I didn’t hear him use the word again.

I could not do those things were it not for the community that I had spent time and effort building first. But humanizing those I disagree with and those I was disciplining also helped build the community.

So maybe that’s the trick. Maybe that’s the hope in all of this. If we remember we’re all people, we can heal and continue to move forward together.

We Did It!

Dear Children of Room 215,

We did it!

You made it to the end of your second grade year without having to use a classroom behavior chart.

If you can even remember this was a very hot topic during the beginning of the year. Several of you wondered why we didn’t have one. You were upset that other classrooms had one but we did not. You were nervous about what it would be like to not have the classroom behavior chart. You asked questions like, “Well what about us who always move up? What will we get?” You also asked questions like, “How will we know we are being good or bad?”

I remember listening to your passionate concerns. Not answering…just listening. I wrote down many of your questions and concerns as it helped me to better understand your needs. Ultimately, you wanted to feel successful. You wanted others to know you were successful. You wanted the classroom to feel “good”. And you also wanted to celebrate success.

We spent a significant part of the first three months of school having conversations around living as a community. We agreed that we would all work to be respectful, kind, safe, and brave. We also agreed to use these four practices to help us navigate situations and issues that arise in the classroom community. As we discussed your questions and concerns about how you will know if you are good and bad and what will happen if someone is not following our four practices we decided to use our words instead of using a chart.

We learned to use our words to praise…

We learned to use our words to debate…

We learned to use our words to encourage…

We learned to use our words to express hurt and sadness…

We learned to use our words to heal…

We learned to use our words problem solve…

We learned to use our words to say, “Stop, I don’t like it!”

We learned to use our words to communicate joy…

We learned to use our words to compliment…

We learned to use our words to say, “I’m getting angry!”

We learned to use our words to say, “I need my space.”

We learned to use our words to help others feel good…

WE LEARNED TO USE OUR WORDS…

As I watched all of you learn to use your words I noticed that I was no longer the person you approached to help solve a problem. You began working issues out on your own. At times some of you would ask for a class discussion and we would have it. I did not have to suggest that for you. I noticed that positive feedback did not only come from me…it MOSTLY came from ALL of YOU! I witnessed smiles, tears, laughter, frowns, and joyfulness. I noticed an eagerness to work things out because you cared to.

My hope for all of you is that you can take the power of your words with you and know that the chart does not give you power…You DO!

Love,

Mrs. Burkins

Asterisk

2 weeks ago, I published a post about the importance of supporting all of our students as they engage in various levels of activism. My rallying cry of the post was that we support all our students, and that all means all.

But, as is often the case, there are exceptions. There are asterisks to catch-all phrases. This post is about that asterisk.

I stand by my words from the first post (I mean, they’re only 2 weeks old; humans change and evolve, but usually not that fast). But I think there’s something that needs addressing that may seem obvious to some, and may not to others.

I gave examples of supporting students regardless of the activist position they were taking. The examples I gave were perhaps loaded with emotion, but also were all of a certain type. The examples were for/against 2nd Amendment/gun owners’ rights and for/against the banning of books.

While there are certainly powerful responses to those topics, and a lot of passion involved, they all are opinions socially acceptable to hold (though certainly each carry their own set of consequences).

So let’s push the issue.

What opinions are no longer socially acceptable to hold? What opinions infringe upon the rights of others? When is holding a particular opinion actually harboring hate speech?

How do these examples fit in the “support the student regardless of their views” thought?

  • A student group opposing the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage
  • A student group supporting the NRA
  • A student group supporting the building of a wall along the US-Mexican border

Those are all political stances that exist in the US, but carry with them much more weight than the previous examples.

What about these?

  • A student group that declares homosexuality is an abomination and supports gay-to-straight conversion camps
  • A student group that declares the superiority of one race above another
  • A student group supporting Richard Spencer and the rallies he has organized

Do any of these push into the asterisk zone where you cannot support the student because of the opinions they hold?

I cannot answer that question for every individual teacher. But I do know that the last three bullet points would be an absolute deal-breaker for me.

I can be a teacher who supports a trusting community by supporting my students in their opposing views.

However.

I cannot be a teacher who supports students in actions that tear down the very fabric of that trusting community. I do draw a line. I do dwell in that asterisk. When a student supports a message of hate, I can no longer support that student, because hate has no place in a community.

Let me repeat: hate has no place in a community. And it doesn’t matter if the hatred is directed at members of the community or not. Directed hatred cannot be allowed to be a part of the communities we build in our schools.

Most countries have free speech laws. But many countries also have laws that limit that speech when it turns into hatred of others. And regardless of the level of those laws, we have an obligation to support our students and defend our students. When it comes to a point where I have to choose between supporting my students or defending my students against their peers, I will defend them.

And I will also let my students know why I cannot support them. Why I cannot give them space to meet. Why I cannot give them advice on how to get their message out. Why I cannot provide them with any assistance. Why I believe their message is one of hate, and why I believe that has no place in our schools.

Those will be incredibly hard conversations, and those students will likely lose all respect for me, as they very likely disagree. They will feel as though I have failed them. They will feel as though I am a hypocrite. The community will be damaged, and it will not be likely to recover.

I have to stop here. This post is getting too difficult to continue right now. The hardest thing I have encountered as a teacher is when I have been faced with a choice, and all options lead to a fractured classroom community. All options lead to fracturing the thing I value the most for my students. But sometimes, we are faced with just those sorts of choices. I am in tears thinking about it, and I must take time to recharge.

Next Saturday, I will attempt to have a post about hope in these situations, as well as what administrators can do to support their teachers who support their students.