Why Culture is Everything

I was so worried at the start of this year that the interruptions by fires would burn down the community I was trying to create.  I didn’t know if our chance to bond had been erased by the school closures.  I was sad and disappointed, but each new “first day of school”, I started over. I learned that it doesn’t take a certain number of consecutive days. It takes a consistent heart.

A funny and sweet thing happened on Friday. One of my favorite books to read is There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom by Louis Sachar. My students “get” this story about a fifth grade boy, Bradley Chalkers, who is “the bad kid” at school, has no friends, is comfortable with failure, etc.  In this story, with the help of a new kid who doesn’t buy into Bradley’s version of himself and a new school counselor, Bradley begins to change how he views himself and takes the risk of changing his persona.  We are in the last pages now, and Bradley has to face the heartache of losing the counselor due to school politics.  It is devastating to Bradley and to the readers who have come to love him and root for him.  So I warn my students – this is the part that makes me cry EVERY TIME. Sure enough, as I’m reading, the tears start to flow down my face and the faces of several students. At this point, one of my boys goes to the tissue box and dispenses tissue to me and his classmates. Then he came to my side and started gently patting my back as I read.  He was so sweet and caring.

Previously, as I gathered them from the cafeteria, he told me his stomach hurt after he ate.  He didn’t want to see the nurse. He was going to wait and see how he felt later.  When I inquired later he said, “No, the question is ‘Do YOU feel better’?” Well, I most certainly did. (He did as well.) When I read his blog post (I will write about that another time.) at the end of the day he had written, “Mrs. G. is very kind. It is our time to be the same.”

Through this story, my interactions with my students and the reminders around our classroom that “Kindness Matters” and The Golden Rule, they are learning the most important lessons of all.  We are not defined by our past mistakes; we are all worthy of love; and being kind can make a difference in the lives of the people around us.

I see the kindness in my students every day, throughout the day, in how they support and interact with one another. It starts with our Celebrations and Concerns time in the morning and ripples throughout the day. We don’t spend time reciting and reviewing the rules, because we are invested in each other’s success and happiness. Following the rules is a natural consequence.

With this is in place, we are ready to take on all the challenges learning brings to us. It doesn’t take clip charts or points, treasure boxes or threats. It just takes kindness. We have it at our disposal. It is free. It requires no storage. It is transformational. Just be kind.

 

 

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To Blog or Not to Blog: A Willingness to Be Crap

The encouragement to start a blog (or simply to write and share) has come from a few different parts of my life. I had tried before, but I gave up quickly after one or two posts – I couldn’t take the pressure to not be crap. I couldn’t let go of the feeling that no one cared what I had to say or that sharing a success seemed like humble bragging or sharing a defeat felt like a pity party people were forced to attend.  I have also seen how “haters” are out there and thrive on attacking by seeing the “comments” my daughter received on her blog about growing up and living with Sensory Processing Disorder.  She too, ultimately took a step back from sharing.

The irony is, I love reading blogs. I don’t judge the writer with the same criticism I throw at myself.  What is actually arrogant is assuming that my readers will be less kind or less gracious than I am.  There will be some detractors, but overall, people do want to love and support one another.  I am confident in this position because one of my greatest accomplishments this summer has been reaching out to other educators through Twitter and professional development opportunities – starting to build a Professional Learning Network, PLN, outside of my school site and friends. What I have discovered outside my bubble is a community of passionate, inspired and inspiring educators eager to share, learn, celebrate and grieve together.

Aside from becoming part of a larger network of educators, my second goal is become publicly reflective about my teaching practice. Steve Wyborney, author the book The Writing on the Classroom Wall, includes this practice as part of being a public learner. To be honest, being vulnerable in public is not something most people will sign up for – including me.  Our social media lives are generally our times of family unity and meals not obtained through a drive-thru window. The airing of “dirty laundry” is frowned upon even though it is in the fertile valleys, in the shadows, where the most growth occurs and deepest ties are bound among us.

Ultimately, it is about growth. Blogging is a time to be introspective of my practices, process intentions and outcomes to evaluate if they match, attain support and guidance for flops, share successes for the benefit of others, and demonstrate to my students that I will not ask them to take risks I am not willing to take. Bono (from U2 for younger people) says “The fear of being crap is what makes you great.”  Well, if it an actual algorithm, I’m off to a fabulous start.