When I first started blogging, it was to chronicle the creation of The Lit Pit (you can see those posts here and here). As the Lit Pit came in to being, my teaching partner at the time, Kristi, and I needed a guiding principle, our "why", as Kristi would regularly say. As we tossed around ideas and debated possibilities, we kept coming back to the idea that learning (in this case, reading in particular) should be joyful. We knew that the Lit Pit was not just a place to come to learn how to read, it was a place to come to learn to love to read. Sadly, we had many youngsters who did not want to read, did not think they could read and certainly were not choosing reading for fun; how did we turn their mindsets around? As educators, we knew that they needed the skills to read; as passionate readers, we knew they needed to love to read. So which comes first, the chicken or the egg?
We went back and forth so many times as to the "right" order for our mantra - Choose to, Learn to, Love to? Learn to, Love to, Choose to? Learn to, Choose to, Love to? Gah.
In the end we decided that there is no one right order. Each learner comes to this process in their own way and from their own starting point. My husband, for example, decided that he would really like to play the guitar sitting around the campfire on summer evenings. He had never played the guitar before so he did not have the love to or the learn to pieces in place yet; he was entering the "love to, learn to, choose to" cycle at the "choose to" and has been working on the "learn to" ever since. What is driving him to keep going, struggling through the "learn to" (which, thankfully, is fairly easy on the ears), is the idea that there is a "love to" at the end. He knows that playing the guitar well will be enjoyable so he's willing to put in the time and effort to get there.
Others, like most kids in school, enter the cycle at the "learn to" stage. There is nothing inherently wrong with entering the cycle at this stage; without exposure to new things, how would we even know if we wanted to try them? But, and this is a big but, unless that exposure engenders a small degree of interest, an idea that this will be enjoyable if I keep learning about it, that learning won't stick and certainly won't keep the learner coming back for more. Struggle for struggle's sake is no fun; struggle because you know that something will eventually be rewarding? Now that can be fun.
Without the "love to" learning falls flat. Without "love to" people never move from "choose to" to "learn to" and vice versa. As teachers, it's our job to share our passions with kids, to show them that learning can be joyful, that knowing how to do something well is the end result of a combination of passion and work, often really hard work. For a struggling student, who watches reading come easily to everyone else, passion is the thing that will keep them going. For a high-flyer, for whom everything comes easily, passion will save them from death by boredom. Passion is, perhaps, the great equalizer.
That's what this mantra is for - to remind us to keep "love to, learn to and choose to" as our goal. This is where we want kids to be, moving iteratively through this cycle, no matter where they start. We want kids to have the skills and knowledge they need to be successful, for sure. In our quest for this, we sometimes forget to make it interesting, to make it fun, to have the end goal be "love to". So, today, in your classroom, pause for a minute and look around - are your students learning that this subject, this learning, can be fun? Where are they in the cycle of Love to, Learn to, Choose to? Are they going to choose to do this, whatever this is, later on today? What can you do to move all your students forward, no matter where they are in the cycle?
As always, I'd love to hear from you - comment below or on social media!
This. This might be my mantra of the year. I came across it on one of Shelley Moore's social media accounts and immediately wrote it down. Because, duh. So simple, so obvious and yet so often missed. I mean, how often do you hear "She's so far behind. Here are the assignments she needs to finish to catch up." or "He's so low. If you could sit with him and scribe for him, he might be able to finish this task." School should be about so much more than task completion, so much more than stumbling awkwardly down the same path as everyone else.
I've been doing a lot of learning lately about the path, the journey, that learners take as they learn. Listening to podcasts about reading development, watching vlogs about math development, reading articles about both. And guess what? Learning isn't this nice linear pathway our curriculum and textbooks would have us believe; and yet we peddle this lie daily. We follow the sequence the text has laid out for us, we compare young readers to norms and we insist that those that don't make the grade try harder, work harder, keep tripping and slipping down the same garden path as everyone else, even though their path might just be ever so slightly to the right, meandering through the flowers.
What if, though, what if we were brave enough to worry less about the task and more about the child? What if we could shift our focus from a linear learning model to one that looked more like a scatter plot - little tiny dots of learning happening at their own pace, at their own time? Even if we managed it only for those children whose path has clearly diverged from the others, we would be supporting students to reach goals instead of supporting students to finish tasks. What a powerful shift for those students; to go from trailing along behind the others, constantly trying to catch up and exhausted from never quite making it, to feeling empowered to go after the goal that is attainable and attractive. What if we brought joy back to the journey? That would be truly transforming learning for kids.
Identifying individual goals takes time. Shifting from the "learning is linear" mindset that we have grown up with takes time. Coming up with a plan and executing it takes time. In order to truly change, we have to make time for all of these things. We have to support one another in making these changes, as slowly or as quickly as it takes. We can shift from focusing on tasks to focusing on goals.
Want to see more Teacher Mantras? Click here for Teacher Mantra # 2 - My Job is To Create Desire.
Literate, numerate, curious and kind. Literate, numerate, curious and kind. In the wake of another school shooting in the USA, a rocky Friday afternoon in my own classroom and an interesting teacher book club discussion, I found myself running these words through my head on a loop.
Of all the mantras in this series, I can proudly call this mantra my own; although simple, it took a lot of thought and examination of my own beliefs to come to it. I knew I needed something simple - I love words but too many words just didn't seem right; I knew I wanted something memorable - the words had to flow easily and stick in my mind; and I knew that it needed to reflect the whole student, not just academics. I often think about changing it but always decide to stick with it as is.
To me, these words reflect all I want students to be when they leave school. Literate, numerate, curious and kind. Simplistic? Perhaps. But sometimes there is beauty in simplicity. Sometimes a simple mantra can help us guide students where curriculum fails. Sometimes a simple mantra gives us direction where curriculum clouds the path forward.
No one should graduate from high school unable to read and talk about what they've read. This is a fundamental right, not to mention a necessity, and I doubt anyone would argue with me on this one. Yeah, you might not enjoy reading (and that is a crying shame) but you need to be able to read a job application, a manual and a menu (have you seen the words on some menus these days?!). Sadly, I have a few grade 8 students who aren't able to do this and my heart aches thinking of them heading out into the world, so vulnerable because they don't have this basic skill. If I focus on nothing else during a day but helping students become literate, I count that as a win.
Our students deserve to graduate feeling like they understand how numbers work, not like they memorized a bunch of formulas. News flash: our brains aren't actually designed to hold information we rarely use. That's what the internet is for (there are actually apps that will scan your math question and give you the answer in real time). At this point I know some of you are getting all squirmy, wanting to tell me that students need to memorize their math facts and that the only way to do it is by practicing it over and over and over. Numeracy isn't (nor ever was) about memorizing facts; it is about understanding how numbers can come together to make more, be pulled apart to make less, used to figure out unknowns. Does having your facts memorized make that easier? Absolutely. Is rote memorization the best path there? For some, but not all. Knowing which numbers to use, how those numbers might come together and which questions to ask - that is the true definition of numeracy (side note: there actually is no agreed upon definition of mathematics. Odd, right?). As I always tell my students, I don't care if you got the right answer, I care that you know how you got it.
Click on the pictures above to download your own copy of this mantra.
Curious (Creative & Critical)
I have been asked more than once about this mantra. Most people feel it misses some pieces; where is creativity? Where is critical thinking? I feel that they fall here, under curiosity. I can't imagine a curious person who isn't also a creative and critical thinker. Kids are naturally curious; they wonder about the world around them, they ask a million questions, they stop to investigate the most trivial seeming things. This is how they learn (in fact, kindergarten, created in 1837 by Friedrich Froebel, was based entirely on the idea that children learn through an iterative process of wonder and re-creation). If we are not careful, however, this curiosity dwindles, replaced by a sense of obligation and requirement. Maintaining a sense of curiosity and wonder in your classroom is fundamental to developing self-motivated lifelong learners.
Kindness makes the world go 'round. As the world around us seems to get scarier every day our best way to fight back is to teach kindness, expect kindness, model kindness. In this HuffPost article, Peter Field points out that kindness is a habit that paves the way to a happy life, for both the giver and the receiver. Teaching kids that simple words and actions can have a big impact will lead to a happier society overall. Looking for lessons on kindness? Check out the educators section on the Random Acts of Kindness website. Life Vest Inside has some pretty rad videos, lessons and challenges too!
Click here to see the first post in the series - We All Need Teaching Mantras.
Click here to see the next post in the series - Teacher Mantra #2: Creating Desire
Do you feel a little lost right now? I mean lost as in "I really don't know what is most important to be teaching in a world that seems so turned upside down." I mean lost as in "There is way more curriculum here in front of me than I will ever be able to get through." Lost as in "Am I even doing this right?" We all feel that way sometimes, especially when the weight of things like school shootings falls so heavy on our hearts and minds. As teachers we can't help but feel responsible for the next generation and that responsibility can be a heavy, heavy load.
When I feel lost like this I reach for my teaching mantras. These mantras are statements that I have gathered over the years that keep me centred and focused on what I know to be true and important in education. I tend to write them down on random pieces of paper or pages in one notebook or another; if I keep searching for it, keep thinking about it, keep coming back to it, then it's worth becoming part of my mantra collection. When I feel lost or torn in too many directions, I return to my mantra collection to get me back on track.
Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be sharing some of my mantras with you. Keep what resonates with you and use it to help you get back on track when the way gets a little bit cloudy. I've created a set of posters with my mantras on them. Click below to download them to use in your own classroom. I'd also love to hear your mantras, so please share them in the comments below!
The problem with working at a middle school is that I read far fewer picture books than I used to and YA novels take a lot longer to finish than a stack of picture books. So my It's Monday What Are You Reading? posts are harder to fill up with a multitude of books (and may not be exactly on time...). Hopefully you will be content with one good review a week (and hopefully I can read one good book a week!). That, or I can review any of the Harry Potter series, as my daughters are obsessed and that is all we are reading at home these days!
This week's non-HP read was recommended last week by Carrie Gelson over at There's a Book for That. The Goldfish Boy intrigued me right away; it fit perfectly with the stream of books I have been reading lately about kids with differences (see this post). As I walked in to my school library the next day, there it was, sitting on the New Arrivals shelf just asking to be read. So I did.
The Goldfish Boy (Lisa Thompson) - Perfect for the middle years, this book explores many of the same topics as Wonder - difference, kindness, understanding. The main character has OCD and anxiety, conditions which have trapped him in the house in recent years until a missing child begins to draw him back out into the world. At first, I struggled with the pretense - I mean, who doesn't seek help for their struggling child long before it gets to the point where they are cooped up in the house with crippling anxiety? But the more I read, the more I realized how these parents were probably like most parents - hoping for the best, unsure of how to deal with the worst. This family is much like many of the families I deal with on a daily basis - the struggling teen who believes that he can cope with it himself, the well-meaning but frustrated dad, who believes that this is something his son just needs to try harder to snap out of and the overwhelmed and uncertain mom, knowing that something is wrong but lacking the knowledge and support to do much about it. Unlike many books about struggling kids, where the parents are super accepting and understanding, this family might actually strike a chord for many young readers. For anyone who has ever lived on a cul-de-sac (me!) the portrayal of how everyone on the small street knows everyone else's business is very familiar as well. This book is well-paced, moving slowly but not too slowly, towards the climax and not so overloaded with detail that young or weaker readers will miss important parts of the story. I would pair this book with Wonder, The Honest Truth (Dan Gemeinhart), Out of My Mind (Sharon Draper) and Stargirl (Jerry Spinelli) for a powerful lit circle about differences.
Any other books in this same vein you'd recommend?
This time of year can be tough, for kids and teachers. As the end of term approaches expectations increase, workload is high and patience is short. Up here in the Great White North, it's often dark when we leave for work and dark when we come home; it's cold and snowy and everything - from getting dressed to starting the car - requires one extra step (or 5 - coats, snowpants, mitts, toques, boots...so.much.clothing). All of this comes together to equal the perfect storm of stress and pressure for all of us. This is the time of year when kids with challenging behaviours flare and teachers have less patience for their antics. So, what's a support teacher to do? Read, of course!
This week for IMWAYR I wanted to share two books I have been (slowly) making my way through in an effort to find ways to support some of our struggling students. They have both caused me to think deeply about my practices, my beliefs and the alignment between the two. They also have me pondering ways we can change our support systems as whole to ensure success for all students.
Children Who Fail at School But Succeed At Life: Lessons from Lives Well-Lived - Mark Katz - The title of this book grabbed me right away. I have always felt that educators revert to a doom and gloom, they're never going to make anything of themselves attitude towards students who struggle in school (which makes me so sad, but sometimes their struggles are so great that it is hard to see beyond the present moment). This book tells the story of these kids once they leave school and make their way in the real world. Katz shares 5 "erroneous perceptions" that are at once so obvious and so ingrained that you realize how much of an obstacle they present to changing out mindset around struggling learners. It also presents different ways that we can support students so that they are successful earlier (my favourite suggestion? More labels. We need to outweigh the negative labels - learning disability, behaviour problem, etc. - with positive ones - leader, friend, coder, artist, etc.). It isn't an easy read; although Katz aims for a conversational tone he often ends up striking a much more academic one. The case studies are fantastic however and the book is rich with ways to support our students on their paths to success.
Lost & Found: Helping Behaviorally Challenging Students (And While You're At It, All the Others) - Ross W. Greene This book is basically a roadmap for using Ross Greene's Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) method in schools. This method resonates with me on so many levels, so beginning to explore and implement it via this book has been wonderful. It is an easier read than Katz's book but is still so information-dense that I am finding I need to read it in chunks, practice a bit and then come back to it. The case studies and examples are extremely helpful and there are really nice chapter summaries at the end. I have always believed in involving kids in discussions about their behaviour, working with them to find solutions that are meaningful and mutually agreed upon. This book not only affirms that belief but gives me a way to structure it to be most successful (feel like I've used that word a lot!).
Both of these books are the types of books that I wish I could distill and make sure everyone knew and understood what they were all about. The next best thing is to share them here so that more people know about them, read them and begin to shift there thinking!
I have not participated in It's Monday What Are You Reading? in a very long time but lately I have found myself missing this community of readers. I have been following the lovely Carrie Gelson's blog (thereisabookforthat.com) for quite awhile now and she has been drawing me back with her wonderful descriptions of new books (and the way she shares them in her classroom; I would love to be a learner in her room). I have also been doing a lot of reading lately and want to share it. So, here we are, back to joining #IMWAYR.
I always like to have a theme to my #IMWAYR posts. Themes help me organize my thoughts and bring cohesion to my final product - whether that is a blog post, a birthday party or a new unit I am prepping for a class. While choosing a theme can sometimes be a process (I'm looking at you birthday parties!), more often than not themes seem to gradually make themselves known to me until they are so obvious that I can no longer ignore them. In this case, the theme comes from the recent movie release of Wonder, an adaptation of the book by R.J. Palacio.
Wonder (R.J. Palacio) - A truly transformational read, Wonder tells the story of a young boy who, due to a severe facial deformity, has been home-schooled his whole life. Now, in Gr. 5, his parents have enrolled him in public school. As Auggie negotiates life in middle school we learn not just about him but about all of the people around him and all of the ways that his condition touch their lives. Much like the books below, this book is a fabulous gateway to discussing differences, kindness, bullying and more. With the addition of the movie it becomes even more accessible to our young readers.
Highly Illogical Behavior (John Corey Whaley) - Just finished this one and really enjoyed it. I will put out there right off the bat that, although this is a book that could be read at the middle school level, there are a few swear words and a fair bit of discovering your sexuality (no sex scenes but lots of talk about it), so I wouldn't recommend it for general consumption below Gr. 9 (aside: we were chatting the other day at a district gifted/enrichment meeting about needing to allow some precocious readers to read above their pay grade. Some kids are ready for this material earlier than others and, with parent permission, that's a-ok). Anyway, back to the book. Highly Illogical Behavior nails the teenage characters in all of their awkwardness and enthusiasm; they are stereotypical but with just enough of a twist that they are endearing - the highly-driven keener (with a dysfunctional family), the jock (who loves Star Trek and is reluctant in the bedroom), the lovable Star Trek fan (who hasn't left the house in 3 years). The premise - that of an agoraphobic teen who hasn't stepped foot outside of his house in 3 years - and the journey the characters embark on together is rich fodder for classroom discussions about differences, mental illness, helping others, friendships and more. Definitely a book worth sharing!
A Mango-Shaped Space (Wendy Mass) - What a wonderful book! A Mango-Shaped Space takes a look at a young girl with synesthesia, a condition that causes her to see colours for letters and words. I loved the way this book explored the way Mia's feelings about her condition develop and change; nothing felt forced or awkward about Mass' portrayal of a teen coming to grips with who she is and who she wants to be. I can definitely see many kids making lots of connections to this book! Much like Highly Illogical Behavior, this is a great choice for discussing differences, loss and friendships.
Out of My Mind (Sharon M. Draper) - I've blogged about this one (and my I'm-not-so-sure-I-loved-it feeling) before. The subject matter was fascinating - the idea that a very intelligent person could be trapped in a body that prevents them from sharing their intelligence really makes you stop and think about some of the kiddos we come across. Are we underestimating them? If they could communicate, what would they say? How can we provide them with opportunities to show what they know? Definitely transformative thoughts to be had there.
At the same time, I just didn't really love the book. I found many of the terms used to be quite dated ("way cool", "that's what's up"), which made the book feel a bit stilted. I also think that many of my students would have trouble connecting to the students in this book; in many ways it felt like an adult's interpretation of how kids behave and what they say. Finally, the climax (which I won't spoil for you) felt forced; possible, yes, but not very likely. All in all, I loved the concept of this book and think it could spark some very interesting discussions; ultimately, however, it fell a bit flat for me.
The Honest Truth (Dan Gemeinhart) - This is a heart-breaking book (expect tears!) about a boy who decides that he is too much of a burden for his family and friends, so he runs away to fulfill a dream or die trying. Told from his point of view and that of his best friend, Jessie, we get a clear picture of two very different perspectives on the same event. Well-written for the middle grades but be aware that the content is pretty heavy and there are some dark scenes. Again, though, another great book for exploring friendships, differences, illness, dreams and more.
I can imagine using all of these books in a themed (of course) lit circle, along with classics like The Outsiders. The rich conversations that all of these books will inevitably spark are so enticing! Stay tuned for a differences-themed lit circle task cards unit that I am working on...any of these books would be a perfect fit.
Have a wonderful week!
I have been sick - as in, off work sick - for a week. Ugh. Not only did I catch a brutal chest cold (which I can't shake at the best of times), I also tweaked my back somehow and was basically unable to move for several days. Now I'm back up and moving, but the cough...oh, the cough. Let me just say that a cough and back pain do not go together at. all. So, healing is slow but I am getting there, The silver lining has been time - time to see my kids off to school in the morning and welcome them home at the end of the day, time to sit on my butt and binge watch Netflix, time to think and learn and create. And create I have! It has been a lot of fun to put together a couple of new parent handouts for you (this is where I sometimes wish I were from the Southern U.S. so that I could throw a "y'all" in there. Some new parent handouts for y'all - it has a certain ring to it, don't you think?). I also updated my Elementary Parent Handout Bundle (8 great handouts - one with French resources on it for all you French teachers out there!) to include the 2 new ones - Ways to Help Your Child with Social-Emotional Learning and Ways to Help Your Child with Early Math Skills - and gave it a face-lift.
What do you think? I'm really happy with the way it turned out and hope you like the new resources too! Click here or on the picture to buy it - at only $5 the bundle is a steal of a deal!
I like to give the handouts out at Parent-Teacher nights, school literacy or math nights, in report cards or sent home with those littles that need just that little something extra at home. I'd love to hear how you use them too! Shoot me some feedback here or on Teachers Pay Teachers.
Happy fall, y'all!
I took my girls mountain biking today. This isn't something we do often (although I would love to) but they are athletic and ride their bikes often enough to be decently proficient so I thought it would be fun. It's fall, it's sunny...life is golden. Let's get out there and enjoy it!
My oldest wasn't exactly thrilled with the idea, but I convinced her to try it. We headed out in good spirits and began to make our way down the trail. The girls walked when they were unsure and rode some really great stuff! The sun was shining, the air had that crisp fall bite to it, the forest had that amazing vanilla smell of sun-warmed ponderosa pine. It was lovely!
It was time to head back up the road the to the trailhead and the truck. As she stared up the road the look on my oldest's face got darker and darker. "You promised!" she yelled. "You promised there wouldn't be any up!" Not quite what I had said but definitely what she had heard. The storm rolled in...literally and figuratively. As my oldest raged at me the clouds rolled in and the skies opened up. We were now walking our bikes uphill in the pouring rain, my oldest yelling and me trying to keep my cool and keep the girls moving up the hill. Good times.
It made me think, however, about the things we ask of kids. My daughter had told me that her legs were tired from a busy week. She had said she wasn't super excited to go. I still made the decision to push her to do it. And then I got frustrated with her when she behaved exactly the way I should have predicted she would behave given all that she had told (and shown) me earlier in the day. I knew she could do it, but I failed to take seriously the contextual influences that were affecting her today.
I wonder how often we do this to our students. How often do we fall prey to what author Mark Katz (Children Who Fail At School but Succeed At Life, 2016) calls "erroneous perceptions"? How often do we expect children to behave the same way day after day, without taking into consideration the contextual influences that may be at work?
Although today's experience will likely not scar my daughter forever, repeated exposure to adversity can have negative consequences for kids, especially those who are at risk at home or at school. As teachers, we can unintentionally create negative experiences by failing to take into account the contextual experiences of children, even children from the same home. By expecting that just because a child could do it yesterday, they should be able to do it today we create conditions that cause some kids to experience failure. By assuming that because a child can do a complex task they will also be able to do a simple, but unrelated one, we cause some children to experience failure.
Last year, with my lovely group of grade 2s, there were days and times when I could sense that we were not going to be able to manage the lesson I had planned. Another day, maybe, but not today. Too much energy, too little energy, too low of a tolerance for frustration. Whatever it was, it was clear that we needed to shift gears. It is easy enough to do this for the whole class, but can we do it for individual students? Can we find a way to shift gears when we see that a student is "off" today? What if they seem off most days? Can we meet them where they're at? Can we offer them understanding and opportunities for success, even if that looks substantially different from the rest of the class?
The next question, of course, is how? How can we shift gears for one student while ensuring that the others continue to move along their own paths as well? How do we let go of the shoulda, woulda, coulda's and focus on the now for each student?
Over the next little bit, I will be delving deeper into this idea...with practical tips and suggestions, research and resources to help you meet your goals.
Recently, events around the world and at home have left many of us with a heavy heart. Shootings, alt-right marches, attacks on places of worship - it is deeply troubling to see such hatred and anger, surprising to the vast majority of us who simply cannot understand how you could feel that way towards another human being. Many people are wondering how such a thing could happen, how someone could become so angry, so full of hate, so violent. An equal number of people, searching for a solution, are quick to point the finger at gun control (definitely needs to change), at mental illness (definitely poorly understood and supported), at political divisiveness (clearly a problem) as the root of the problem.
But the bigger question is, and always will be, how? Not how do we stop this from happening again but rather how do we stop people from becoming so angry and hateful in the first place?
It seems that a common condition of being human is wanting things to be fair - getting your share of the proverbial pie is built in to our DNA apparently, a survival mechanism I'm sure. I cannot tell you (although if you teach primary or have young kids, I really don't need to) how many times a day something was not fair to somebody, somehow. Observing the majority of the situations unfold in my classroom, on the playground and in my own home, "it's not fair" had more to do with perception than reality; "it's not fair" stemmed from the assumption that someone was getting something bigger, better or belonging to me, regardless of what was actually needed in that situation (teaching wants vs needs is a whole other post). Take, for instance, the classic "it's not fair!" - one child gets a slightly larger serving at dinner. Often, the child yelling it's not fair has not actually stopped to consider whether or not they need more food; they are saying it simply because there is a perception that everyone should get the same amount. When they don't, the feelings behind "it's not fair" can fester and grow, particularly when it seems like your slice of the pie is slowly being picked at by others, leaving you with less and less.
But what if we could flip this narrative? What if, from a very young age, we taught children two simple things - 1) fair is not always equal and 2) there is power in asking why before deciding something is not fair?
Fair is not always equal
For generations, we have been raised with the belief that fair means everyone getting the same thing, which is both impossible and a bit ridiculous. No two people are the same thus no two people will ever have the same wants and needs. What if our kids grew up knowing this to be true? What if they grew up knowing that there was more than enough to go around? That as long as they are healthy, happy and safe, they can share this abundance with others so that everyone can feel healthy, happy and safe...and that healthy, happy and safe looks and feels different for different people. That it is not only about how much we have but how much we have to give.
As educators, we have the power, at least to a certain extent, to help grant this gift of enough, of fair is not always equal. By modelling, in our classrooms and our schools, that everyone and anyone can access all tools and supports, without prejudice or judgment, we begin to help students decide what is enough for them and to see that others' needs are different. When we normalize support, when we offer it to everyone but don't require anyone to take it, we are teaching students that everyone may need some support to be successful; that there is no shame in needing help, no shame in taking a slightly different slice of the pie. Without normalizing support, without offering it to anyone without the slightest hint of judgement, we continually reinforce the notion that fair should be equal but it isn't, that someone else is taking from my slice of the pie.
The power of asking "why"
We can help students move towards understanding the idea that fair isn't always equal by encouraging them to ask one simple question before declaring "it's not fair!". What if, every time a student felt slighted, felt that something was unjust, they simply asked "why"?
Jimmy (sees Suzie holding his pencil) - "Why did you take my pencil?"
Suzie - "Ummm...sorry, I didn't realize it was your pencil and I needed one."
Suzie (running for the swings just as Jimmy runs for the swings too) - "Why did you take my swing?"
Jimmy - "Oh.....yeah. That wasn't very nice, was it? Here, you can have it."
It is nearly impossible for kids, especially young ones, to lie in the face of this question. "Why" circumvents the immediate defensive response we have when someone calls us on our questionable behaviour - think "Hey! You took my pencil!" with it's immediate response "No I didn't!" Why gives us time to reflect on what we did without feeling defensive. 90% of the time, asking "why" prevents further conflict and allows children to solve problems for themselves. Using this in my classroom last year was a game changer - it reduced tattling and empowered students to seek simple, non-confrontational solutions to their problems. It allowed them a little window into the thinking of their classmates - I cannot tell you the number of times the first situation above was immediately followed up by a neighbouring child offering up a pencil that they had in their desk. Asking why helped my students to develop empathy in ways that no lesson from the teacher ever will.
Imagine how the world would change if this generation of kids grows up knowing that fair is not always equal? Knowing that different people need different things to be healthy, happy and safe? What if they knew that asking a simple question like "Why?" de-escalated situations, provided a window into the wants and needs of others and opened the door to collaborative problem-solving opportunities. As educators, as parents, we have the power to make this happen. Tomorrow, as you go about your day, look for opportunities to ask why, look for opportunities to encourage children to ask why. You just might change the world.
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about living life with my family, teaching and learning something new all the time. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!