storytelling using mentor texts

Inevitably, every break brings time for reflection and renewal for teaching. What’s going well? What’s hurting the team? Over winter break, I found myself desperate for a reset in my classroom. Students didn’t even know each other’s names, much less stories; I was the bad guy without enough of the connection that grounds those high expectations; I was so busy trying to collaborate in an overwhelming amount of configurations that I lost my authentic teacher compass; I was buried in systematic behavior expectations that did not align with who I am…and that didn’t work. I felt like a failure…worst, I was uninspired and uninspiring.

Last semester, my colleague and friend started talking about the writing approach which consists of copying mentor texts. She’s all up in this book and talking about it all over the place. (You know, authentic and real PD…not the forced kind; rather the kind that evolves from dialogue and mutual eagerness to grow in our craft.) We implemented mentor texts with our juniors as a way to create real-life writing experiences: reviews.

Slowly these two bodies of reflection met and bowed to each other on the dance floor of my mind: how can I provide students the opportunity to share their stories and improve their writing with mentor texts? How can I create an opportunity for reset while encouraging students to write beyond the traditional (and boring) academic scope (read 5 paragraph essay).

And those two ideas danced. Beautifully and wonderfully, beyond my expectations. Here is how I approached it (some steps are modified for how I wish I would have done it):

  1. I decided on two mentor texts: Maus and Night. This would give students the ultimate choice: story-telling via prose or story-telling via art.
  2. Then I combed both texts looking for engaging prompts and mentor text sections that would elicit stories that matter from my students, the kinds of stories that bond at the heart level. Here are those prompts for Maus and Night.
  3. To begin all this, and to deepen my own connections with students, I also modeled the process, as did my student teacher. I chose for my brain dump a piece about my Mom I had published on this blog a while back. Then I altered it to mimic the mentor text. I also walked through breaking down the mentor text into moves I could mimic.
  4. Next students picked their genre and prompt followed by a rough draft. This draft is not based on the structure or style of the mentor text, but merely is a brain dump to get their stories onto the paper.
  5. Then began the analysis of the mentor texts’ approaches. This was a chance for students to be independently taught writing craft by the mentor text they selected. They were guided through this process using extensive graphic organizers. Here those are for Maus and NightOf course I shouldn’t have been surprised at how this organically produced the close and deep independent reading I’ve been trying to manufacture all year long. But that is exactly what happened. Three cheers for favorable instructional accidents!
  6. After the analysis portion, students transitioned to the remaking of their drafts into the style of their chosen genre. For some, this meant adding dialogue. For others, they rearranged paragraphs. For the artsy, they drew and divided into panels with shading and captions. No matter what, each student was nose deep in a text, looking for how to mimic it. It took a bit for them to get the hang of it, but they did!
  7. At this point, we did some peer workshopping. Secretly, the real point here was the sharing of their stories in partners to prepare them for a larger production. After all, in my head, this IS the reason for this entire writing project: community connections. All the academic benefits are bonuses. (Oops, did I say that out loud?)
  8. Then, the wondrous glory of storytelling: the sharing. I asked for feedback from students regarding which peers they felt most comfortable and uncomfortable sharing with, and then I used that data to place students into a variety of small groups. In those groups, I gave very specific directions to 1, read his/her story out loud and 2, each student was to write a note of encouragement/thank-you letter to the author after he/she shared. I provided sentence frames and colored cards. To me, these are the kinds of days I live for as a teacher. Students huddled together in small groups, sharing secrets of the heart, spinning webs of connection that are strong and trustworthy, a web upon which we build more learning and more connection. A web which catches the light.
  9. Finally, students self-graded using a narrative rubric based on CCSS. In the future, I will do a better job explicitly teaching these elements, because though they were inherent in the works the students produced, the students themselves did not have the language to self-evaluate with specifics.

The pieces the students turned in were breathtaking both in craft and content. Were there grammar errors? Of course…but honestly, who cared when I was seeing some of the best writing I’ve seen from students in my decade of teaching. The pieces were original and unique and authentic and individual and unfettered with the formulaic chains we so often think at-risk students need. The pieces were heart-wrenching with students exposing the dangerous truths of their lives: from gang violence to domestic abuse to homelessness to murder to drugs to suicide to anxiety to sexual assault to the grief of too many orphaned children. I was not reading papers; I was reading souls.

But THE most beautiful moment in this project came the day we shared our stories in small groups. Throughout the day, I roamed to different groups to pop in on students’ stories and leave them a note from my heart to theirs. In one group of two boys and two girls, one of my most difficult and often disengaged boys began sharing his story. As he worked his way through it, it was evident his exterior was cracking. His pace slowed; his face tightened; his eyes moistened; his words chocked. He collapsed into himself, a heaving pile of grief, shattered by bullets past. Literally. His peer, the other boy in the group, silently got up from his seat, walked around the table, knelt beside him, rubbed his back, and just stayed…a steady, silent, comforting rock. It was a moment so beautiful, so raw, I nearly lost my breath.

Who am I kidding? I did.

And things have been better with that student. Not perfect. Not a miracle. But a shaky bridge has been solidified.

And that is just the kind of story I want to write with penstrokes of my career.

 

welcome home to b261

The first day is everything.

My students spent their summer inundated with news reports about senseless, merciless and unjust killings of people who look just like them. They are afraid.

My students spent their summer working multiple jobs just to keep food on their families’ tables. They are hungry and tired.

My students spent their summer wondering which of their teachers from May would still be there in August. They are insecure.

My students spent their summer listening to a white man’s rhetoric about how they don’t belong in this country, how they’ll be shipped back to a place that is no longer home to them, only to have their vision of this country’s promise cut off by a wall. They are worried.

My students spent their summer surrounded by terror attacks of extremists who (reportedly) worship the same god they do. They are disheartened.

So, yes, the first day is everything.

When they walk into my classroom–into our classroom–they don’t just need a safe place. They don’t just need a restorative place. They don’t just need a grounded place. They don’t just need a comfortable place. They don’t just need a welcoming place.

They need a home where they belong.

  • Home is where the door is open and inviting. It is important that the minute students see our classroom, they know it is for them. I do this with welcoming signs and clear communication.img_8376
  • Home is a place that is tidy and organized. I bought a carpet to ensure the auditory and aesthetic quality of my room was on point. I have bins for students to store their stuff. All of the previous day’s handouts have a place to be with clear labeling. I have minimal decorations as this will arise collaboratively with students’ contributions and academic anchor charts throughout the year.
  • Home is a place where resources abound. My first year student teaching, my mentor had the students bring community supplies for extra credit. I have copied this every year since. We have bad days or forgetful days; when that happens, my students always have what they need in the classroom to be successful–partly because they provide those resources for each other. IMG_8421
  • Home is a place where students are known. I do not want students’ first day to be going over a syllabus.

    Rather, I give a survey the first day so that I can gather important information about who my kiddos are…in school and as a human. While they are taking the survey, I walk around and introduce myself to each of them individually with a handshake. Such a first day procedure ensures that the priceless first impression that our time together will not be about rules, but about them.

  • Home is a place where I as the teacher am known. This was my first year at my current school, so the reputation that in the past had always done so much prework for me was void. So, I brought my reputation to them…alongside my heart. Students walked into the classroom to find this letter.
  • Home is a place where students see themselves. Our first activity as a class was to watch and discuss this video about “what’s your WHY?” I shared with students that there will be times this year where it will be hard and discouraging, and that’s exactly why they need to know why they’re showing up and persevering. Some of their whys (more still to come from students throughout the year) now are on display at the front of the room as a visual reminder to them that this is not about a grade, but about a heart matter.
  • Home is a place where students honor connection. The day after I introduced the why concept, we had circle. In this time, with the passing of a talking piece, students shared who or what their why is and told a story about their why. It was tender and special and bonding. It was a beautiful way to establish the kind of feel we will have in our classroom.img_8387

Just as the circle, I end where I started. The first day is everything. For I know that for there to be great learning in my class, there must be great risk.

And everyone feels more comfortable risking when they feel at home.


For more of my thoughts on how to establish a sense of home where students belong in the classroom, check out:

 

 

 

 

 

sanctifying space for closure

May brings showers, raindrops of tears that roll down the cheeks as I say goodbye and best wishes to students who have melded into the tissue of my heart. And without the protection of umbrella or raincoat, I run directly into the impending storm clouds of emotions. I dance in the rain because I need closure. I dance in the rain because I know my students need closure.

I work with students who are often dealing with trauma of some sort: poverty, abuse, violence, homelessness, illegal status, witness to crimes, gangs, addiction, broken homes and shattered dreams…weights pile atop their shoulders. With trauma comes ambiguity, abrupt endings that bleed into frail beginnings all tainted with confusion and unanswered questions. Always on alert, students who have suffered trauma cannot regulate their emotions:

Shields and Cicchetti suggest that hypervigilance may play a key role in undermining the development of emotional self-regulation. They postulate that, unlike the nontraumatized child, the hypervigilant child cannot shift away from distressing cues in the service of maintaining emotional regulation.

As not only an academic content teacher but a safe-haven-guardian, I need to create the space in my classroom for students to safely regulate (identify, embrace, express purposefully) their emotions…especially as we near a conclusive separation. After all, I have spent the entire year loving my students into greatness, and such a relationship cannot just snap without the time and place to say goodbye and thank you and good luck and I love you and see you on Facebook. So much of their lives is spent with things or people they care about abruptly falling into an abyss; I need to model the ability to say goodbye as an empowerment for smooth transitions instead of a series of sudden fractures. By building the space for closure and modeling goodbyes, I teach my students the language of emotions–not avoidance or hypervigilance, but leveraging emotions for their betterment:

Trauma often impairs the ability of children to use words and pictures to identify their feelings. Children who have trouble using language to communicate emotions cannot always “formulate a flexible response” to situations and may react impulsively. Learning to identify and articulate emotions will help them regulate their reactions.

Closure is not easy, especially in a society that prides itself in ignoring emotions for the sake of independence and/or productivity. But more than ever, it is critical that I both teach and model for my students the ability to transition gracefully, to choose how they say goodbye rather than having it afflicted upon them as one more traumatic event.

And so I design ceremonies in order to sanctify space for closure in my classes. Food parties. Reflection projects. Card signing. Verbal storytelling. Gifts. Personal mementos. And once I’ve done it with the seniors who leave next week, I’ll break my heart all over again for the freshman to whom I also have to say goodbye this year so that they can also have closure.

The rain pours down from closure’s clouds and steals my breath and dirties the hem of my pants and blurs my vision; it is soul-soaking.


But after the rain, the glorious aftermath. The way the sun sparkles on one lingering raindrop on a leaf. The smell of newness. The opening of a flower that is no longer thirsty. The parting of the clouds to reveal Heaven’s smiles.  The hope that hangs on the air.

My students deserve that.

present in the pain

Sometimes the stars align so that the same message is being whispered over and over into your ear, at just the right time. A divine echo.

Saturday morning’s yoga class was one of those whispers. Led by a pregnant woman whose roundness in her belly was only rivaled by the curve of her carved biceps, she started class with the intention of being present. She shared that being in her second pregnancy lends itself to the tendency to want the carrying and labor part to be over to get to the “best part”–life with the child. But she explored the irony, that even then, with the joy of a life before her, she can want to rush through, to the next part, always forward, always beyond, always later.

So much rushing leads to the missing of life.

“Be here now,” she said.

But what I heard was, while bowed down in humble downward dog with tears spilling prayers in my eyes:

Be present in the pain.

Following that sacred message, I met with a best friend who also constantly gifts my life with divine whispers. Yoga in friendship, if you will.

And this card was her serendipitous gift:

peace

It’s almost as if she was in cahoots with my yoga instructor.  Divine whispers.

It is no secret that this year has been hard for me. And as the calendar turned to 2016, all that is anchoring my mind is “I can’t wait until next year.” The chance to start over. A proverbial January 1st.  The next part, always forward, always beyond, always later.

Be here now.

Be present in the pain.

It is easy to daydream and fast forward to a different time, where of course I’d be at peace and happy and fulfilled with this and that in place.

It is easy to daydream and fast forward to a different time, where of course I’d be at peace and happy and fulfilled with this and that in place.

That doesn’t exist. All that is is here and now. And true peace is thankfulness without terms, contentment without conditions.

Be here now.

Be present in the pain.

 

 

a classroom Thanksgiving

In the 1940’s, Maslow said it:

full bellies + safe bodies + happy hearts + thriving self = engaged learning

This week it popped up on my feed:

respect given + respect received = engaged learning

And Friday, it blossomed in my classroom:

family potluck + words of gratitude = engaged learning

Actually, I don’t know yet, for sure, with quantitative numbers and qualitative studies, if my Friday activity will result in engaged learning. But I just don’t care.

Because it meant so much more.

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These words are the sentiments from the students after our Thanksgiving celebration as a classroom family. We began by writing notes of gratitude to each other. Each student had a poster, and as we sat family-style, we passed them around and wrote words of encouragement, thankfulness, and praise–light–to each other.

As usual, at first there was confusion and chaos, as is the case with any newly initiated task in any high school, anywhere. But then it got quieter and quieter, more focused and more heavy as the students felt the weight of giving this joy. There were traffic jams as some students wrote more, meanwhile side chit-chats and songs and obnoxious complaining and sessions of giggles popped up elsewhere.

You know–family bonding.

Then we feasted. Homemade donuts and posole and cake and arroz and enchiladas and perogies…yep, my students know how to do it right.

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And while we feasted, we gave thanks. We whipped around the circle (rectangle, really) and shared, through many tentative tears and much hearty laughter, what we are thankful for this holiday season.

I’m grateful for my parents.

I’m alone at home; but when I come here I’m not.

You make me smile…and that’s pretty important.

I don’t have a family at home, and you have shown me I have one here.

Yep, it got me “in the feels” too (as my kiddos say). It was a good day in the classroom.

It was a good day as a human.

 

the space of hospitality

***This post is part of the June synchroblog that invited bloggers to write about hospitality.***

When I think of hospitality, I think of my mother-in-law: or Mom as I call her and know her. Upon arriving to her house, it is clear she has taken the time to lovingly designate space for us to be, comfortably and naturally. Furniture is moved so that our bed is accessible. Sheets and pillows are purchased and placed so that our skin is greeted warmly. Cups and beverages, with the appropriate spoon, are laid out on the counter so that our morning is seamless. Natural soaps and toothbrushes are set out on the bathroom sink so that our grooming routines are not disrupted by forgetfulness. But these, though important, are the mere physical arrangements of her hospitality; invisible yet more powerful are the heart arrangement of hospitality. Entering her home is like entering a sanctuary, where a space has been prepared for us from the inside out.

When I think of hospitality, I think of my best friend Tammy. I remember when my Mom died, sitting in my sister’s backyard draped with trees, finding the time and creating the space to finally call her and grieve in her metaphorical arms. So much of that conversation, between my open mouth sobs and broken heartbeat explosions and implosions, was silence. Beautiful, sacred, anointed, compassionate silence. And in Tammy’s silence on the other end there was so much missing: quaint solutions, awkward utterances, quick fixes, flimsy promises, weak answers, insecure accusations–all the things that so often are projected onto those grieving by those who are clueless and uncomfortable with their own powerlessness over a friend’s sadness. In the space of her silence was hospitality, a heart arrangement of care for the other despite impotence for change.

When I think of hospitality, I think of my best friend Libbi. Walking into her classroom is like walking into a church. Student work and statements line the walls. The soft murmur of a tea kettle always whispers a welcome. Sunshine pours in from the windows, and outward from her her. The space is calm, inviting peace and pause in a frantic day. In the air hangs fresh memories of learning students, conferencing moments, counseling words, and inspiring messages. Her care for the students is beyond a lesson plan; her care is a heart arrangement for their every need: anointing a space for mind, body, heart, soul.

When I think of hospitality, I think of yoga. Entering a studio that is lit from above and within, practicing next to a community of people who are mindful of their breath, swaying to soft music, bending differently under the confident adjustment of the teacher, swelling from the joy of my body’s able movement, the release of Savasana: all of these blessings arise because someone takes the time to create a space for yogis to unite inhales and exhales. It begins with a physical arrangement of postures and cues, but it is the heart arrangement of the teacher that sanctifies a sacred space.

When I think of hospitality, I think of the times Dave and I practice Sabbath. With no phones, no tv, no computers, and no external distractions, it is just the two of us, sharing a space together of play, of laughter, of light…of love. When I talk to him, I know he is there, fully present with me. When I listen to him, I know I am there, fully present with him. And in that sacred space born of our heart arrangement, God is present as well.

Ultimately–sadly–hospitality is a dying art in our culture because our space is cluttered–daily, perpetually, annoyingly, overwhelmingly cluttered. It does not matter if cookies are baking in the oven and sweetening the air if the hostess is scrambling around the kitchen distracted. It does not matter if a room is clean and prepared if the host is self-consumed with his own problems. It does not matter if guests are welcomed into a home if all the children are attached to their video games. It does not matter if two people set apart time to hang out if they are both buried in their phones.

Hospitality is not about the minutia, but about mindfulness.

Hospitality is not about the home, but about the arrangement of the heart.

Hospitality is not about the serving, but about anointing the space.

Hospitality is not about being a Martha, but about being a Mary.

Hospitality is an age-old blessing ceremony: weaving hidden anointing-oil-threads of love and light through every interaction, connection, place, and space.

Here are other voices on hospitality:

A Sacred Rebel – Hospitality

Carol Kuniholme – Violent Unwelcome. Holy Embrace.

Glen Hager – Aunt Berthie

Leah Sophia – welcoming one another

Mary – The Space of Hospitality

Jeremy Myers – Why I Let a “Murderer” Live in My House

Loveday Anyim – Is Christian Hospitality a Dead Way of Life?

Tony Ijeh – Is Hospitality Still a Vital Part of Christianity Today?

Clara Ogwuazor Mbamalu – Have we replaced Hospitality with Hostility?

Liz Dyer – Prayer For The Week – Let us be God’s hospitality in the world

K.W. Leslie – Christian Hospitality

the puzzle of a positive learning environment: 10 pieces (glue included)

The adage goes something like this:

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

For the purpose of this post, I’m going to play with that concept a bit:

Ask me a question once and I don’t have an answer–shame on you. Ask me the same question twice and I still don’t have an answer–shame on me.

Part of our district’s teacher evaluation system is how we build the learning environment for our students. I am grateful that I tend to score effective to distinguished in these categories. Once I was asked the question by my observer: how do you do it? If you’ve followed my blog at all, you know how much I care for my students; they’re like my own kids they are my kids and I strive to make my classroom feel like home. This is the why, but not the how, and honestly the reflection hasn’t gone much deeper than that; after all, teachers in our society–me included–very rarely focus on what we do well. For one, I don’t want to be considered as arrogant, or a braggart. Two, we are bombarded with messages that we are not good enough–both intrinsically and extrinsically. But just recently, another observer asked me the same question: how do you do it? After some digesting of the repeated question, I realized there is power in deconstructing how I do it, in naming the pieces–yes for others, but also for me.

So how do I put together a positive learning environment? Here are my puzzle pieces…

  1. Take your job seriously, but not yourself. The job of a teacher matters. It is a weighty responsibility to empower students with the tools to create a better future for themselves. And every day I approach my work in deference to that gravity. I plan intentionally, attending to the expectations of external standards while attuning to the needs of my students. I grade rigorously, ensuring that my AP classroom in the hood could give any privileged AP class a run for its [abundance of] money. I teach vigorously, always focused on a target with both explicit and implicit learning goals. I treat time like it’s a precious commodity in the classroom–and it is, because for so many of my students who are behind, I’m trying to teach them senior curriculum while simultaneously catching them up. I remain grounded in the present of my students’ abilities, all the while looking ahead and creating conditions that prepare them for college. However…all this does not mean I am a stoic. In fact, I would argue the opposite. I am just as passionate about humor as I am humanities. So I sing, rap, dance, burp, cry, cuss, dance, hug, joke, and laugh the deep belly echoes of bliss with my students. I make fun of myself. I intentionally use comic relief like the Old Bard himself… albeit not with that much finesse. Much of this self-deprecation lies in the art of code-switching-a skill my students also have to master. Sometimes I speak street, sometimes I speak in lyrics, sometimes I speak Spanish, and sometimes I speak academia…but always I speak with purpose.
  2. Expect nothing less than the best from students. For all my eight years in education, I have worked with underprivileged, at-risk youth. But really, I have worked with the underdogs of society. All an underdog needs is someone to believe in him/her–even when that’s missing intrinsically. And I do believe in every single one of my students. I believe in them so much I will not let poverty, emerging bilingual skills, or systematic oppression lower my standards for them. I. will. not. All their lives they have been told that they are behind and can’t do what other students can. I will not send that message. My students will read and write and listen and speak at collegiate levels. They will behave like responsible contributors in a community of learners. They will turn in work that makes their brains hurt. They will risk and fail. And I will stalk them until they try again, so they feel the victory of a hard-fought success. In the words of one of my former students: “Every time I walked into your classroom, I knew I was going to be productive because you wouldn’t let me do otherwise.”
  3. Be humble. I apologize to my students about once a week, at least. Sometimes I bomb a lesson. Sometimes I forget to make copies. Sometimes I mess up a grade. Sometimes I lose my patience. Sometimes I’m low in energy. Sometimes I’m unprepared. Sometimes I make hurtful assumptions. But always, I apologize. I do not project an image of perfection to my students. I reflect on how I’m trying to grow as an educator, the mistakes I make and how I’m trying to fix them, and the challenges I’m fighting. In this, I become a part of our community, instead of the one above it.
  4. Teach people, not stereotypes or statistics. From day one in my classroom, I get to know my students as human beings. I give them a survey about who they are. I ask for their music preferences. I tell them about myself. Then, I follow up with them–how’d the game go? how’s your aunt? are you feeling better? I recognize that my students are a series of stories, and to be written into that story, I need to know the plot and the characters and the setting. Though I expect nothing less than the best from my students, I also need to know what is their worst, and why it is happening. Ultimately this comes down to one key skill: questioning. I do not make assumptions (because when I do, I get in trouble). Instead, I question students about the why so that together we can work through the how.
  5. Teach stories (and skills) that matter to people in way that attracts people. Because I teach people, I teach stories that matter. In The Book Thief, we see that friendship allows us to endure any suffering; in The Bluest Eye, we see that our choices have lasting impact on others; in The Things They Carry, we see that stories are salvation. And that’s just semester one! We spend so much time in collaborative discussion because how people present themselves at interviews matters. We spend so much time revising our writing because the people who can articulate themselves are more likely to get what they want. We spend so much time analyzing, because people who know that all messages ultimately try to manipulate them have power. This does not mean I ignore standardized testing and expectations; it means that as the teacher, it is my job to interpret and convey those in a way that matters to people, and not just to the data gods. Part of that responsibility is the call to make learning fun, innovative, exciting, and interesting. In the words of a one of my former students: “Mrs D’s class wasn’t a class. It was the time of day where my mind was challenged and stretched into new ways of thinking.”
  6. Explain the why. Sometimes it’d be nice, and easier, and less time-intensive to just say “because I told you so.” But I, as a human being and learner, always want to know the why behind what I’m doing in meetings or in PD or in life. And so I approach my students with the same dignity. I work hard to explain our tasks in terms of skills needed for the world. I plan assignments and assessments that never constitute busy work, because my students deserve better. 
  7. Read the field and respond accordingly. Some days, when the majority of my students do not do their homework, I stop what we’re doing and have them reflect. Perhaps it becomes a teachable moment about time organization. Some days, when the mood in my classroom seems off, I stop what we’re doing and have them reflect. Perhaps it becomes a teachable moment about stress management. Some days, when I can’t get my kiddos to shut up and engage with the work, I stop what we’re doing and have them reflect. Perhaps it becomes at teachable moment about values and responsibility. You see the pattern. I pay attention to my students, I ask them to be meta-cognitive, and then we find solutions. In addition to sending the message that their hearts and souls matter just as much as their brains, I hope these reflective skills transfer to their lives beyond the classroom.
  8. Build in social-emotional learning. I teach the standards because they matter. I teach stories because they matter. I teach meta-cognition because it matters. But I also teach social-emotional skills because they matter..the most. A classroom without a sense of community does not allow for deep and meaningful learning–especially for emerging bilinguals (Google “affective filter”). Social-emotional learning is the solid and hidden foundation upon which classroom management is laid, from which stories and stories of learning rise gloriously into the sky. The first weeks of our class are spent on community building. It is essential that we all know each others’ names, feel safe to take risks, as well as feel responsibility to hold each other accountable. We do circles about issues in their lives. We tell our stories. We do cheesy community builders. We make commitments. In the words of a former student: “Your personality and way of coping with us and our weird generation created such a great environment that I always enjoyed walking into your classroom, mentally prepared to learn.”
  9. Ensure all voices contribute, and all voices matter. It is essential in my class for ALL students to share. And it is essential for all students’ voices to be honored. To create this, I often do not give my own opinions during discussions. I also often do not respond to students’ comments. This creates a place where I am not the center of the conversation, but another voice in it. This also empowers students to find their voice and use their voice–in my classroom, but most importantly in the world. In the words of a former student: “No voice was left unheard and we always had safe environment to be ourselves.”
  10. Synchronicity. The stars have aligned so that I could teach. I feel blessed that God has made me with a unique skill set so that I could be a teacher. I view my job as a ministry of care and empowerment. When I go to work, I feel a divine synchronicity. I know this might not be the case for all teachers…and so I come back to the idea of “loving what you do and doing what you love.” Such an internal motivation for teaching is obvious to students…especially those who have seen teachers come and go. When they  know I want to be there, it’s more likely they’ll want to be there.
by Rabia

by Rabia

The final piece is more than a piece; it is the glue that holds everything together: love. I love my students. I treat them as my own. I speak to them from a place of love; I teach them from a place of love; I laugh with them from a place of love; I listen to them from a place of love; I build our learning environment from a place of love. And when I mess up, which I do, I am grateful that “love covers a multitude of sins.”


 

For all my teacher-blogging friends, I’d love for you to blog about your own puzzle pieces for creating a positive learning environment. Link to mine, and send me your link so I can include yours!

the silent heartbeat

When I was young, innocent, and embarrassingly naive, I would sit in disgust and judgment at the older couples who would slide into a booth nearby, look over the menus briefly, interact politely with the waitstaff, and then promptly fall into a silence so loud I’m afraid the bus boys couldn’t gossip over it. And I thought, with my chin high and my experience low, I’ll never be like that. I’ll always have interesting and profound conversation to carry with my future-husband-to-be, precisely punctuated with flirty giggles. I’ll always look at him with my chin tipped ever so gently downward and to the right, light radiating and reflecting from his incredibly engaging self (and naturally, vice versa).

Oh what I fool I was. Better yet, how unversed in the language of love. As that unversed fool, I falsely thought the duration, depth, and dynamics of a dialogue were what measured true intimacy.

Now, after nearly 12 years of marriage, I have come to realize that yes, dialogue is an integral part of love, but as equally important are the moments of silence we share together.

In these moments, true comfort is revealed.

In these moments, peace to think and reflect is welcomed.

In these moments, two people can rest in what they have already built.

In these moments, all pretenses have been dropped and authenticity is vivid and tangible.

In these moments, a secure couple can live and honor two separate but shared lives, side by side.

On a first date, or a tenth date, that silence might be the foreboding evidence of a Cupid mismatch, the fumbling and mumbling through awkward pauses, like the couple learning where to put their feet in the pattern of a dance. But after a decade of marriage, after years of both dramatic dates and uneventful glances, that silence is the sweet collective breath of two people in harmony, who know how the other dances, and move together in graceful time.

And of course, herein lies the true beauty: they dance in silence to the observer, only hearing the subtle symphony of their heartbeats.

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Check this out for similar musings.

my valentine

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Irregardless of Hallmark’s imposition and/or your take on a commercial holiday, today is a day to celebrate love. Isn’t every day? So today, I celebrate my valentine, Dave.

His day consisted of what his life does: selflessly and generously taking care of other people.

He is surprising his mom for her birthday (also today) by showing up at her door in Illinois tomorrow morning for a quick weekend visit.

Before he left our home, he picked up. He also spent the day working on my computer, trying to fix the turtle-speed Internet which has been driving me up the wall (and let’s face it, thereby him).

photoHe made sure to SPOIL me with these earrings. And those earrings. And also that other pair of earrings. Yep, three pairs from Holly Yashi–a company I am. obsessed. with.

And he came down to my school today to mock interview a student who is a finalist for the Daniel’s Fund. This student holds a very special place in my heart, and because Dave is who he is, also in his heart. In loving me, he loves my life, my job, my students. So he spent part of his Valentine’s day on a cold, hard chair talking with a senior in high school about how he wants to rise out of poverty to change his community.

And for all my teacher friends, you just know there is nothing sexier and more endearing than a man who loves up on your students.

How blessed am I. Thank you Cupid. Thank you God.

Thank you Dave.

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Scissors and Saints: The Story of My In-Laws

In-laws. The phrase, a common topic of pop culture, sends shivers down many people’s spines:

For the first time ever I was taking the family on the road. We stayed with my in-laws, which on life’s list of experiences ranks right below sitting in a tub full of scissors. (Jeff Foxworthy)

I feel so fortunate to be blessed with in-laws that rank high as compared to Foxworthy’s joke. Since falling in love with Dave, I have found an additional family in which to give and receive love. They will never replace my parents…but the beauty lies in the fact that they do not have to. My heart has expanded so that where there were 2 parents, now there are 4; where there were 3 siblings, now there are 4.

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30249_424511792812_629555_nMy additional brother, Jeremy, is a man of quiet observation. He is brilliant with his hands–whether working on cars or homes. He is a man comfortable with himself, generous, patient, insightful and kind. I am lucky to be his sister.

My additional mother, Debbie, is a woman who walks closely to God.

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When my Mom got sick, both times, it was her I called. When a close friend’s Dad was dying, it was her I emailed. I turn to her because I rely so deeply on her fierce intercessory prayers. I recognize that Dave and I stand on the shoulders of this saint; I feel carried by her prayers and love.

232323232-fp3;--nu=326--75;-857-WSNRCG=323668-364-75nu0mrjMy additional father, Ron, is a man who speaks little, but carries and discreetly shares the world of words in his heart. Words like this:

You have made a difference in my life and I THANK YOU for that.

When he writes to me in emails–whether it’s corny jokes and forwards or emails encouraging my heart–he is as handy with language as he is with a tool belt. He has a way of melting all my crusty defense mechanisms, just by leaning in with a gentle pat on the back or a shared quiet conversation.  I treasure his presence in my life.

These are the saints with whom I spent my first Thanksgiving without my Mom. They fostered a place for me to be in grieving silence and stupid joy. They gave me space and grace. 

And they created the Christmas spirit. Sorry Mr. Foxworthy, the only scissors here are used to open all these presents–physical and metaphorical. 

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