“I have 5 younger brothers and sisters. My superpower is that I am really good at helping somebody feel better because at my house, someone is always needing something like a band aid or a hug.”
“My superpower is that I am good at showing others how to use technology. I think computer might be my second language.”
“I am really organized. My superpower is helping to clean things up and make them look nice. Our team’s supply tub looks really good because of me.”
“I’m really good at helping new kids make friends. Everybody needs at least one friend. I’m good at helping others be together at recess or lunch.”
We are good at book recommendations.
“I can help at Chapman Elementary because I speak two languages. I know that you cannot speak or read Arabic, Mrs. Smith…so I can help you with students or their parents.”
“After my mom died, I learned to be a good listener. At my house, my brothers and sisters, but especially my dad needed quiet time to think about things after my mom died. When someone at my house needs to talk, it’s important we pay attention. My superpower is listening because sometimes a good listener is what someone needs to feel better.”
“My superpower is music. I love playing piano for others…it makes me happy to see people smile and sit while they listen to me play.”
These are some of the quotes lifted from recent interviews with my students. Sifting through my notes the other evening, I smiled, I cried, I laughed, and finally breathed a sigh of relief. There is hope for our world when we uncover the strengths students carry in their hearts and spirits. I am renewed with determination every time I think about the amazing children surrounding me each day in our classroom. These kids are my heroes and heroines, making my community better one day at a time with their superpowers.
Before I start focusing on last year’s test scores and this year’s baseline assessments, I need to acquaint myself with the superheroes residing in my classroom. In a world challenged by so many issues, I gain priceless information when I take time to discover the many gifts and talents my students bring to our classroom community. In today’s world, we don’t need someone who can lift a boulder, but we do need someone who lifts the spirits of others. Our community doesn’t need someone who can out-battle enemy storm troopers in another galaxy, but we do need someone who can unify a group with friendship and respect. We need skilled listeners and bilingual community members that respect the voice and perspectives of our diverse community.
This is why we need to know our children.
Our superpowers: Helping someone who is sad or lonely feel better.
We notice other people.
I start the year sharing an Ignite-style collection of images that capture what I believe to be my “superpowers.” I share a few slides each day with a short explanation of my strengths. With each slide, I talk about my perceived talents that I bring to my school and home community.
I show a picture of a bookshelf in my classroom. My superpower is that I can help kids find captivating books. I turn kids into literacy ambassadors determined to turn the world into a community of readers.
I show a picture of a beautiful meal, my favorite recipe to prepare for my family. My superpower is that I know the healing power of healthy food and the value of sitting down at the dinner table together. I want all of my students to always have breakfast and lunch, so I let them know, “If you are worried about groceries, come and see me so we can work this out.” I want to make sure that families have information and access to nutrition programs as needed.
I show a picture of me trying to do Crow Pose, a tricky yoga balance. My superpower is NOT that I am great at yoga or any sport for that matter. However, I am brave enough to try something hard, something that challenges me. I want to be reminded of the challenges and frustrations students face as learners. My goal is not to be perfect. My goal is to keep trying, to keep going after something that is difficult. When I keep trying, I am proud. When I tip over, I laugh, but roll up and try again. I am a super-heroine because I am determined to get better.
After a few days of my personal stories and being together in our classroom, students start to feel comfortable enough to chat with me about themselves. During a mini-lesson, I explain how readers and writers rely on understanding the strengths of characters to help them understand and explain their stories. Since a classroom is a living story, we need to know one another. As I’ve revealed what I believe to be my own superhero talents, I now want to know what makes my students special or unique.
Rather than put children on the spot, I meet with informal groups. Using a simple question, I launch a conversation and record the comments of children.
What are some of your super powers?
We can speak two languages. Can you?
As we talk, children are inspired to think about their talents in new ways. With guidance, my soccer players move past their skill sets and number of goals scored to consider they are cooperative leaders who know how to work together with teammates. I discover the budding mechanics who like fixing things; then I know who will be tending our pencil sharpener throughout the year. Students who excel at caring for siblings often become the caregivers not only to classmates in need, but our classroom plants and pets. Children who view themselves as active and fun become a go-to person for shy kids looking for a playmate at recess.
We like taking care of the lunch boxes each day.
As each group talks with me, the others in the room are thankfully eavesdropping on the conversation. As discussions unfold, things that matter to children are presented.
“I’m really good at untangling knots in shoelaces.”
“I’m an expert at redoing ponytails and braids because I do all of my sisters’ hair at home in the morning to help my mom get us ready for school.”
“I love to listen to someone who is sad and help them figure out a solution to the problem. My sister fusses a bunch at home, so I’m good at stopping the whining.”
As I take notes, we build a web of our class’ superpowers.
As kids see our growing visual display of superpower categories, they often add their names to the evolving lists. Using small photos of the kids, I add their pictures to the names listed with our “superpowers” so our community can see and recognizes the strengths and expertise of others in the classroom. Our superpowers web becomes a community bulletin board, used like Angie’s List, a resource used by adults to find goods and services around the community. Your shoelaces somehow got tangled? Go and see Ali. You need someone to help you with editing your story? Go and find Omar. If you are not feeling well and Mrs. Smith is sending you to the nurse, ask Remaz to walk you down because she is good at helping others feel better.
One way to create a strong, close-knit community is to build the confidence and awareness of its members. If a child feels valued for the strengths or life-skills he or she brings to the classroom, that same child will be more willing to be a risk-taker as learning opportunities unfold during the school year. When children feel valued by classmates, connections are established and a supportive community thrives. Every student, no matter his story or her challenges, has something to contribute. It is up to us as leaders in our learning communities to take the time to discover and celebrate those superheroes and super-heroines amongst us. We need them. In this sometimes crazy world, we need one another.