Why I stopped asking “How was your summer?” on the first day of school (and other great lessons I learned about choosing my words carefully)

Last year a teacher shared a touching blog post about not asking how your summer was as many of her students did not have those story worthy summers. It struck a cord but I never really thought as I wasn’t teaching in a classroom and didn’t have a homeroom. I smiled while my students worked on their independent modules in my office told me about their summers and the things they’ve done. The year before I didn’t even have independent workers in my office, and another year further back, I simply forgot because I was too excited to share all of my activities I had planned. The gravitas of the question never really hit me until this year when we started our year with a reminder about how unique the lives of each of our students might be.

This year I bought the book The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and I re-read that post from last year and I cried. I cried because I know that my students don’t have the kind of holidays that I had at their age. I cried because my students tell me how the school is their favourite place. I cried because for so long I asked: “How was your weekend/Christmas/break?” when I now know that wasn’t the question that needed to be asked.

This past year I stopped asking my kids “how was your [insert whatever time frame]?” and now ask “Is there something you’d like to share with the class?”. One of my kids shared a joke each week, another told me a useless fact (Did you know the difference between graveyards and cemeteries are that graveyards are attached to churches and cemeteries are standalone plots of land? I sure didn’t!) Some kids chose to share about their weekends, other told their classmates something new and some never did participate.

I talk about choosing my words carefully because this isn’t the only time I have had to look back on the words I chose to say to my kids.  A while back I wrote about how a student told me I had to stop making things personal.  Sometimes I forget the importance of how my words affect the classroom.

This year my goal is to remove the phrase “you guys” from my vocabulary. A friend of mine is writing their thesis about feminism and linguistics and send me an interesting article from The Atlantic about how American English needs “Y’all”. While I can’t say that “Y’all” is going to be my new term, I can say that I realized language affect every person differently.  Maybe this year I can be just slightly more cognizant of the words I choose with my students.

 

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“Where’s your teacher?” On the floor with her students!

Teaching both High School and Elementary in the same day opens your eyes to a lot of things. Teaching in your own room and teaching in a room you share with others opens your eyes even more.

My classrooms have always had more of a home-like vibe to them. There are comfy armchairs, couches, pillows and different types of tables. There is a choice for every student. Students quickly figure out what works best for them and become comfortable where they are. The classroom gets split into zones of learning – those working through something hands-on, those working on basic skills, those working with others, and those who just need a bit of quiet or independent space to work. It is a busy place but everyone finds their place.

I personally don’t have a desk. I hated my desk in my office and got rid of it to replace it with a large table and a couch so I can move based on my needs. I also generally end up in walking around the school with my phone or iPad (or sometimes my computer) to find a space that works for me at that time. What this means is my kids and I often end up sitting on the floor, on the couch or sometimes walking around the hall together when I have an EA to supervise the rest of the happenings in the class.

When I had my own homeroom/learning community, my students had slippers they could put on in case they didn’t want to wear shoes. They had blankets they could wrap up in to keep them warm and focused. Sometimes they would sit under tables or on tables (against the wall) to give them a place to focus that suited their needs. I simply met them where they were.

This year my high school kids moved into a room with desks because we needed more space with almost 30 of us. That feeling of comfort and choice is gone. I no longer feel like I have the same connection with them because I am always standing next to their desks.

My elementary kids no longer have any cozy furniture either because my classroom is being shared with another class and we were borrowing our furniture from another teacher. We still have zones in our classroom but we no longer have the same vibe. The learning is more formal. I miss it and they do too. Time to get back at least a little bit of comfort in the room.

Lessons from Disneyland

One of my favourite parts of Disneyland is when you pass under this sign to get into the park. It is all about changing your mindset, opening yourself up to the magic, and immersing yourself in your surroundings.

Disneyland_plaque

As a huge Disney fan, I’ve always been inspired by the idea of turning my students into imagineers. Disney is more than just a bunch of characters and rides. For me, Disneyland is the living example of what I’d like education to become. Recently I watched the new Tomorrowland movie and it inspired me to strongly consider the entry plaque and what I could do for my students to really immerse them in the skills/competencies and opportunities awarded to them through inquiry.

When talking about the movie, George Clooney explains that Tomorrowland is a “secret society of geniuses… this beautiful, gleaming metropolis. A place where the ideas of science and exploration are able to grow to make the world better.” Why can’t our classrooms become a place where students can explore, create and build their tomorrow? Why can’t they use yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy to inspire innovation in their learning?

Once I started researching, there are many schools and teachers who have taken this route. School should be exciting. You should learn while having fun and have fun while learning. The secret is in the details. By taking that extra time to create the right environment and experiences, anything can happen.