Communities foster connection. Connection fosters communities.
This past Sunday both of these statements were confirmed for me and then I took this confirmation to my classroom today. I was leaving church at 8:20am on Sunday and he shakes my hand, “Thank you for worshipping with us this morning.” I reply with, “thank you (read that again with a confirming tone of voice).
I already felt at peace with the homily and guidance for the day and yet at this moment I felt something else. Maybe it was a sense of joy. Maybe it was a sigh of relief I survived shaking his hand. Maybe it was letting go of a worry thought – do I really belong to or in this large congregation. As I exited the church, I was glad I shook his hand. I think the verbal and physical touch was an invitation to return. I felt grounded a bit.
I’ve read a few pieces on social media lately about greeting students at the door and all the benefits this simple act can foster. I learned this while studying to become a teacher. I wish I could tell you I’ve pulled it off every day for my twenty some years of teaching. I haven’t. There’s been something to set up. There’s been a meeting to attend. There’s been a classroom chore to do.
It’s a new year; I’ve missed my students, and I wanted them to feel how I felt leaving church on Sunday – content, welcomed, and noticed. So, there I was this morning standing outside the classroom door waiting for my first arrival.
“Good Morning Jackson. It’s so nice to see you this morning.” Arms outstretched wide waiting to see if he takes the bait and comes in for a hug. Score, my first hug of the day! Twenty one hugs and two handshakes later my heart was full. Each squeeze released happiness. Only one grumpy face walked through the door. After being off for two weeks, we had the best first hour of our day ever!
That morning greeting created a connection and embraced reentering our community. We had a great first day back and I hope your return to school as gone as equally as well.
Last week I had the pleasure to listen to author Cleo Wade speak. She wrote Heart Talk: Poetic Wisdom for a Better Life and is an activist. This year I’m doing some thinking around creating and was surprised to hear her start talking about creating. My notes included these thoughts; creating is in our DNA, individuals have the capacity to create, and “creators create community”. My ears perked up even more because I knew I wanted to find some moments to reflect on community and share in this space.
She gave us a question to ponder, “Where have the ambitions of building community gone?” She urged us to think about the act of this question a sacred task. Other notes I jotted included
- communities give us opportunities to choose to unite
- communities bonds of spirit
- communities help us rise above our concerns
My students don’t get to choose to share a classroom with each other. Their class placements is done for them. I realized reflecting on the first thought, they do get to choose to unite with each other. I believe one of our roles as a teacher is to help our students make that choice in hopes of creating a spirit of cohesiveness. If we have a feeling of cohesiveness perhaps we can rise above our own concerns and make a difference for each other and beyond.
I would respond to Cleo’s question and ask her to look within classrooms for ambitions building communities. May our work help carry to spaces outside our schools and help people connect in person with others.
I had such great success Rethinking Meet the Teacher event and I keep coming back to the question What’s it going to be like to be a learner in this classroom?; I did some rethinking about working with parents. I enjoy going to Curriculum Nights as a parent for three reasons. I want to see the space and teacher that will be working with my child and I hope to learn about the teacher personally. I enjoy learning about the topic or material covered for the year and I get really interested when they mention anything about the how we learn.
Taking my learning from the Teaching for Creativity Institute this summer, I decided to engage my parents in a creative task. I prepared eight brown paper bags with recyclable materials. Parents were around the room; some standing and some sitting. I asked them to come together in small groups around the tables and introduced the material bags, task, and time limit. They looked at me hesitantly. The task was to decide on a problem they had they had and make something to fix it.
The room slowly became a buzz and I “worked the party” discovering this work had more benefits than I thought.
- Parents introduced themselves to each other and identified who their child was.
- They shared ideas for problems and were validated for their thinking.
- They laughed and giggled.
- They learned how hard it can be to get started.
- They wanted to work longer to produce their ideas.
- They were hesitant to share and then enjoyed that step.
- They wanted to make something “real” and struggled with prototypes.
- Parents shared more excitement than usual for our year of learning together.
- I felt more relaxed during the evening.
- I felt more engaged with the parents than just presenting information to them.
The night was a bigger success than I thought and I decided the biggest benefit was I had spent time in developing a parent community for our classroom. We know our work isn’t just with students and I’ve had parents join us on and off every year I’ve been teaching. This evening felt different and I think it’s because I had them engaged and being a learner, like their child will be this year.
This past summer I was lucky enough to attend the Teaching for Creativity Institute at the Columbus Art Museum for four days in June. My teaching soul felt hopeful and excited to revisit ideas that grounded my early days of teaching and gather some new thinking. We talked about our stakeholders and how we can advocate for creativity teaching. Ideas were tossed around for working with parents during curriculum nights and I began thinking about the two hour window new students and families can stop by to visit our learning space and meet me. For many years it’s been an opportunity to unpack your school supplies and find out who is in your classroom. I began thinking about the messages I wanted to start expressing right away and thought this format could be tweaked.
I saw an idea at the art museum in the Wonder Room and wanted to replicate it. I thought about how they could express and foster messages about our classroom. We will be inspired. We will work together. We will make things. We will talk. We will come together. We will imagine. When I thought about picking up my phone for some photos tonight, I had another family to meet and visit with. I wish you could see the room in action. It was beautiful.
- Coming Together – pick a fabric strip and add to chicken wire to make a class weaving
- Imagine – explore with post it notes and make something new, tape and colored pencils were offered too
- Drawing with Friends – new markers and a square piece of paper hung together in a larger square grid.
- Be Inspired – offered four picture books about bugs, tissue paper squares and rectangles, pipe cleaners, and bendable wire
At first, I was worried the creative spaces weren’t going to be used very much. It was probably a new option for my students. They loved adding a strip of fabric to a collaborative weave. When the room was quieter nudging was needed to engage my new friends. I turned around at a busy moment and there was more engagement. Old friends were reconnecting. Neighbors were laughing. Parents were reconnecting. A new student, just moved this weekend to be with us and my new friend V did a great job talking to her while her grandpa snapped photos of her new learning space. As the two hours ended, I found used creative spaces and things to hang in our room. My space is now our space and the messages I wanted to send about our year together have been sent.
In June, I had the privilege to attend the Teaching for Creativity Institute at our local Columbus Art Museum. Four days of connecting with area educators while focusing on what creativity is, looks like, and how to foster creativity. Creativity can be practiced, you can get better at it, and creativity is the basis of change. Learning and growth require change. To help develop creativity we studied and learned about thinking and how to create cultures of thinking. As our learning continued, we started talking about how to explain and justify to parents things we may do to foster creativity. Ideas were shared for engaging parents and changing up the traditional curriculum night format. I loved the ideas shared and I’m sure I will incorporate some this coming year.
Fred Burton, one of my former principals was a guest speaker during the institute and as he discussed studying and fostering cultures of thinking he proposed an essential question to guide that work. “What’s it going to be like to be a learner in this room?” I loved this question and kept pondering it. This is a big question and an important one to be answered. It would probably help with the beginning of the year jitters, I think everyone feels on some level.
At the end of day three I visited an area of the museum that’s called the Wonder Room. It’s a place where families and children can interact with materials either by doing something or making something. The activities connect in some way and during my visit my head began to swirl with thinking from my time at the institute and Fred’s essential question. If I was a student, I would hope to find out some answers about learning in our classroom right away. All the routines and things we do can bog down our first days, if we aren’t careful.
When families visit my room before school starts to meet me and see our learning space I typically have them work together to unpack and sort the student’s school supplies. This doesn’t answer the question, What’s it going to be like to be a learner in this room?” I found myself wanting to change the format of coming to see the classroom and meet your teacher before school starts. What if their time in our classroom had creativity moments and opportunities to talk to others? What if it involved collaboration and sharing ideas? What if it generated student work to display and welcome them on their first day? These photos are ideas I may borrow in one way or another to revamp meet the teacher.
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.
I had the pleasure to attend The Ohio State University’s Commencement this past Sunday as a proud parent of an undergraduate senior. I had no idea I would find a topic to share today and start taking notes during the keynote address while listening to, Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Dr. Desmond-Hellmann shared her story; growing up, education, and research. She had bumps, valleys and success. Her message to the graduates was based on her own journey. Shifting her thinking from all about me to thinking all about us; brought depth and purpose to her work. She urged the audience to ask, What can I do for our world? This will shift our thinking from me to thinking about us. She urged us to question ourselves and cautioned us that good intentions are not enough. Good intentions are still about me. She wants us to ask; What was the impact? What improved?
She urged the graduates to shift their thinking as soon as possible from me to us! I began thinking about my second graders. Why do we need to wait to start thinking broader? Can we shift our thinking at seven and eight years old to be bigger than me? I started brainstorming questions and ideas –
- What can we do for a younger grade?
- What can we do for a special group of students?
- What can we do for families staying at our local childrens hospital?
- What can we do to impact our world?
- What can we do to make a difference in our own building or classroom?
- Read biographies about those not so famous.
- Find stories about kids making a difference.
- Discuss and identify feelings we have.
- Do things locally now to make a difference and make it concrete.
- Encourage and foster inquiry.
- Foster a relationship with an organization that needs help.
- Do community service more than once with an organization.
- Field trips are so limited – bring speakers from the organization to us.
- Share photos with the organization or video for visuals.
- Spark and provide creative moments to be a maker.
When Dr. Desmond-Hellmann said, “we under estimate ourselves” I instantly thought about our elementary age students. I think they get under estimated. They are powerful and filled with potential. Listening to her speak on Sunday made me think about fostering a community and how that is really taking the thinking all about me and making it all about us. However, can we take that all about us and make a difference? Can we go outside our four walls and have an impact on others?
I’d love to know what others are doing to take help their communities to make a difference and impact others. Please share ideas in our comments.