Stop, Look, and Listen

 

stoploollisten

Time is of the essence every day as an educator.  We constantly feel like we are racing the clock with so much to do. It’s easy to let the content of our teaching become the only focus of what we do each day with careful planning of the activities, lessons, and projects that we provide our students.  While this is what makes us good teachers, we become great to the degree that we can infuse humanity and empathy into our interactions with our students.  These interactions have the potential to create spaces in our schools where our children feel they are fully seen and heard.

“To need to be seen, to be heard, to be valued is simply to be human.” ~L.R.Knost

When we are seen and heard we are given a platform from which we can become our most authentic selves and shine.  As teachers, we naturally desire to value our students in this way but find that on the busiest days it can be a challenge.  The words STOP, LOOK, and LISTEN are three simple guideposts that can help us find time to lean into empathy, compassion, humanity, and connection with our students even when life gets busy.

 
STOP

To stop is to take time to question our first response.  I would dare to guess that we offer dozens of responses to achievements and choices every day.  No response is isolated. Children are constantly observing how we praise, discipline, and encourage them.  Their wise and perceptive minds are always at work creating pictures and stories about their safety and sense of value in our spaces.  Our ability to stop becomes a brushstroke on their canvas or a page in their story leading to an added sense of confidence and comfort that sets a foundation for deep and meaningful learning.    

 
LOOK

To look is to fully see children and affirm them in who they are.  Notice their race, learn about their religion or family traditions, and find ways to celebrate their differences. While we strive for equality, we have the opportunity to deepen our practice as educators by striving for equity. In an equitable classroom, the needs and story of each individual are considered, thus providing a springboard from which all students can succeed.  Looking takes time. Take the time to look and you’ll be amazed by what you will see.

 
LISTEN

The crazy things kids say can bring us joy and frustration all at once but what we take away from those moments can be very powerful for both the teacher and the student. What are our students’ stories? What are they saying and how do they react to one another? How do we respond when someone in our class says kind words? How do we respond when someone in our class is not kind?  The answers to these questions can be opportunities to deepen our relationships with our students by showing them that we are listening and they are important.     
We must remember that while we are shaping and molding the children in our lives, they are also shaping and teaching us.  So with every moment that we stop, look or listen we are growing, holding ourselves accountable, and practicing the imperative value of empathy.    

 
I am always trying to learn how to hold myself gently, but also hold myself accountable, as well as do the same for the people around me. ~Sarah Kay

 

Cross-posted on Flourish Blog 

Photo credit: http://gopixdatabase.com/stop+look+listen+signs

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“Stop Commanding Me!”

A colleague’s powerful reflection on young children and leadership. It is in the smallest, most unexpected moments that we have opportunities for the greatest lessons. #ILoveMySchool

MiAmor

In honor of Black History Month, our class used our most recent Life and Community Project time to research impactful African-American leaders.  We spent the week introducing our students to 5 leaders (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Misty Copeland, Cam Newton, Tracy Reese and Ben Carson) and had each student decide who they wanted to learn more about.  Our essential question was, what makes someone a leader?  Once the students chose a leader to research, it automatically formed small groups.  Their experience entailed working with a teacher to learn what they could about each leader, creating a life size figure of that leader and writing words to describe how that person is or was a leader.  My co-teacher and I look forward to giving our students regular and intentional opportunities to collaborate and this is something we do well at Trinity!

As my co-teacher and I crossed paths while floating from group to…

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Four lessons I learned from a child on MLK Day

mlk wordle

Once upon a time, I had a conversation with a child about their recent MLK day lessons. It went something like this (forgive the grammar, as I’ve tried to write it as closely as I can to how I remember):

Student: Don’t even say that name. It’s scary.

Me: What name? Martin Luther…

Student: (close to tears) Yes, yes..don’t say it!

Me: Can I give you a hug?

Student: (nods head) Mm-hmm.

Me: Can you tell me what scares you? Maybe talking about it will help you feel better.

Student: It’s just that people were so mean and that part where they, you know, somebody shot him.

Me: (silence, not knowing quite what to say) It’s okay to be scared. (more silence) Those people WERE really mean. It scares me sometimes too. (pause to think a moment) Do you know why Martin Luther King was so important?

Student: Because he made a speech?

Me: Well, yes. He made lots of speeches. He used to travel to different places and talk to different groups of people and give them hope. He spread a message of hope and love and kindness and peace and hugs like ours.

Student: (breaks a smile)

Me: Whenever you feel scared about…you know…the scary part, just think about the hope and the love and the kindness and the peace. And think about togetherness. Brown people like me and some of your friends would not be able to be together in this school if it weren’t for people like Martin Luther King.  How does that make you feel?

Student: Better.

Me: If you ever need to talk about something that makes you scared, you can come talk to me. Okay?

Student: Ok

I thought about this conversation and it made me wonder: What opportunities do we provide our students to unpack the emotions that come with lessons about MLK and other social justice issues?

This post is not intended to answer the question or give a “ten-step guide to emotionally supportive social justice lessons for young children.”  It is simply to ask.  I believe that inherent in each question is the answer, which is particular to each individual.

For me this question brought me to four lessons:

  1. Children are intuitive, perceptive, deeply emotional beings. This is not a weakness but a strength. In all that we do, we should acknowledge their ability to see through to the core and heart of all things.
  2. They can handle the truth.  It’s important to serve things in child-sized chunks. However, sugarcoating history is not the answer.
  3. These lessons need time. As adults, we need time to deliver the information in child-appropriate and sensitive ways.  As children, they need time to digest the information and a forum to discuss feelings of fear, anger, hope, love, and other emotions that arise from these lessons.
  4. Finally, schools can be a field of infinite possibilities for the healing of the collective wounds that we carry around topics of race and inequality. Not only can we help children work through processing these stories of injustice but with each lesson, activity, and discussion we bring ourselves closer to the love and unity that we all want to see in the world.

I hope that as I’ve worked through some of my thoughts on this, it has encouraged you to do the same.  I also hope that this day brings the opportunity for introspection, rest, and a deeper commitment to change the world one child at a time.

Finding Mrs. Ribeiro

dandelion

“We were dandelion seeds released to the wind, she asked for no return. We are saplings now with gentle hands.” ~ Sarah Kay

I am pretty sure I’m not the only person that was impacted the day I heard these words but I promise I felt like I was the only person in the room.  Earlier that day, a friend and colleague shared words with me that are now planted in a very special place in my soul.  Among the things she said were – and I paraphrase – “You are like a dandelion…moving from place to place and leaving your gifts everywhere you go.”  She reassured me in that moment and reminded me that my nomadic spirit and the constant craving for change and adventure is a part of me that I must embrace and nurture.  So it goes without mentioning that when I heard Sarah Kay say those words in her poem, my heart jumped with enthusiasm for the unknown journey I was about to take.

My journey is one that I once thought I would never be enough to walk. It is the journey to find Mrs. Ribeiro, the subject of a poem that reminds me of the teacher I want to be. I long to find the beautiful being that “glides like a sailboat through the hallways,” and makes them “wonder…question…and proud of what [they] learned.” Every morning when I step into the mystery that is my classroom, I dig deep within myself and search for her. Some days she is but a glimmer of hope beyond my reach. Yet other days, she is so bright and magnetic and real that I can touch her.  Either way, the searching itself has power to bring light into my students’ world to illuminate their love for learning in ways that are far beyond my understanding.

I believe each of us carries the spirit of Mrs. Ribeiro.  My desire is that we would have the courage to search for her and give her room to shine her brilliance so that they will also say about us:  Our teacher “let us fly.”