During the week of May 5th -8th I was not able to teach because I tore my ACL of the weekend and was on crutches. This was a tough week for me to struggle with the reality of my new limitations.
For our professional learning community at IslandWood we decided to reflect through the lens of the animal we identify with as a teacher. I feel an owl represents my calm, quieter temperament. I enjoy taking a step back and observing. I bring a lot of knowledge and thoughtfulness to my teaching. When I do speak I can have a strong voice that carries through the crowd and I am not afraid to swoop into a situation.
During the week of April 28th-May 1st I was liaising which means I was running large group lessons and supporting my fellow teachers in the field.
I feel like I am running a marathon everyday and training for the next one every night. This group of students brings so many challenges to the table and my investment in their success has been just as great. I have spent so much time reflecting on what worked and what didn't so I can plan the next day accordingly. Setting myself and the students up for success. Every moment is a precious moment that I could be building rapport and trust with my students. Every day after I drop the kiddos off I debrief with my chaperone teacher.
The best part of this whole exhausting process is that it is paying off. We have been struggling all week and made it a LONG way. I am hoping tomorrow we will have built on the progress of today and things will go smoothly but we have some pretty big issues with listening, respect, interrupting, listening, listening……I have found myself becoming a very different teacher, but not worse necessarily, than I usually am this week which is interesting and exasperating. I am not normally this rigid and strict with my expectations. I like to allow the students space to create their own meaning, take ownership and learn naturally from the process. With this group, when I give an inch they take a mile....never have I regretted letting students pick up twigs to weave more. It became a slippery slope that I have been backtracking ever since.
With boundaries being pushed and tested left and right, I have had the opportunity to pull out all the stops and have SUPER HIGH standards all week. All that being said, it has been awesome to build and earn a relationship with these kiddos. This is definitely a week I am not soon to forget.
Last week was the climax of a big paradigm shift for me. I have been moving towards this need that I could not name at first. This desire to let the “kids be kids” and teach to the moment not my pre-written plan. Before break it began to settle more in place as a focus on the “journey not only the assessment.” But that wasn’t it either as it wasn’t the assessment I was struggling against exactly. The beginning of this quarter it became more clear that it was a desire to shift the lens to focus more intently on the process rather than the product. To arrange the week in such a way that I was helping teach critical thinking and questioning not just clear instructions. I am no good at following directions so I imagine even worse at giving them!
After reading David Orr’s writing on ecological imaginations I felt spurred to look towards my personal teaching philosophy. I was not satisfied with only presenting the material and running a smooth lesson. I wanted to structure my week in such a way that scaffolds an experience not just content. Possibly, beginning the week by introducing wonder that will lead to questions that inspire action. I wondered what is the best way to empower my students to think beyond my words and challenge their own assumptions? I wondered if I could assess the impact of this process through truly student driven investigations. Is this possible in less than a week?
Leading up to the last SOP week every little thing came together just right to scaffold the teaching experience. With a clear goal of hoping to help our students ask more questions, we started the week. We prepped our intentions with great clarity from the very beginning and we were very intentional about not giving answers to naturalist inquiries but instead we left the questions hanging and offered them tools to look it up themselves. We lead several observing and question asking activities throughout the week.
Our final day we were on campus and I was set to tackle an investigation. We had “a secret hope that one of their questions would actually be the investigation for the day!” We took them to the wild zone and it was their turn to go through the process on their own. We flipped over a log and let the process begin. With all their great questions we were really interested to see if any could lead to an investigation. We wrote them all up on the board and started discussing how we might change them into investigable questions. We eliminated some questions and rewrote others to be testable. After a quick vote the students decided to test, “Do all dead trees have moss?” So test it we did!
After spending the week with these amazing students, watching kids be kids learning the process of science and loving it, I feel like I have tasted what it means to really teach. I don’t have all the words to describe it yet but it is as if the greatest teaching involves giving the students the tools and knowledge needed to survive their adventure and stepping back and letting them move through the landscape of learning. Along the way they will need moments of help and guidance is the journey is appropriately in their Zone of Proximal Development. More than ever I feel like the process of learning is happening whether I am there or not. It is how I enter the story and the knowledge, tools and opportunities for adventure I help create that matter in this business of teaching.
The students are lying on the ground looking at the stars. Few minutes of silence then...
Since the beginning the earth has been here, spinning slowly, steady and constant. For thousands of years people have walked along its surface, through the meadows, down the valleys, in the forest. As long as people have walked the earth they have stretched out and gazed at the stars just like you. This steady rock beneath you feeds you, gives you water to drink and air to breath. As you lay here, still and quite, gazing at the stars one star stands out from the rest. Your star. Your star spills bright light down over you. The light touches every part of you body, relaxing it. Imagine the light moving over you head, down through each arm, your breathing slows, down through each leg. Feel your body growing heavy, your roots sink into the earth, through the grass and soil, down into the solid rock. Thick dark rocks that were once molten lava being pushed out through volcanoes, now warm and solid. Traveling deeper into the molten core, churning and beating. This earth is your rock. Supporting you, giving you life. Here in the silence you find rest, protection and peace.
I had the opportunity this week to step away from teaching a field group and be a visiting artist teaching ecosystems through drama. This experience is not exactly as I expected. I worked and reworked my lesson plan, got in front of the kids and things began to change. Cut things, some games worked better than others, re-work and then improvised. Out of all my tweaks today the improvising was by far the most successful and encompassing of the spirit of my lesson. It really reaffirms that I work well on my toes with a few minutes of think time and then perfect upon reflection. I was waiting for a group that was running behind and I was thinking about how I could combine both games into once activity in order to cut time and decided to jump in head first with some SERIOUS novelty. There was not much time to let the instructors know (Which I changed for tomorrow) but I hid behind a tree and when the group came into the field I poked my head out, got their attention and ushered them over to the trees. I was in character as a renegade mouse leader and all us mice had to safely exit out of the field because an owl was watching. We sneaked in and out of bushes and into the wildzone where I interrogated them to find out their names and make sure they were not owl spies. The kids were hooked. Next time I am going to extend the experience, try to share the leadership with the kids and build in a problem that they can help me find a solution for. This will hopefully help them build their own stories through modeling. This technique is definitely something I can implement with my students.
Monday, as always, was the most askew day of the week. Tuesday was a blessing and giving my attention seeking student a job that put him in charge, in a place of power, where I could speak to him often but it was not a personal critique all the time lasted all morning (till he was sick of waiting for the team to hurry up and he realized it was not actually a dictatorship). By Wednesday we had made a little headway on using words over actions. At one point I heard him say, as he was flipping the light switch on and off, "I don't mean to do difficult things all the time." Broke my heart but I told him. I really pulled out the stops with all the behavior strategies we have talked about. We used some positive rewards on occasion when serious motivation was needed. I spent the last two days grappling for moments of success with my really challenging boy. I celebrated verbally every moment any kid did something kind, considerate and not impulsive, especially when it was him. Funny, by the end of yesterday my chaperone started doing it as well. The chaperone that earlier had said the only way to get to this kid was by having severe, real, consequences.
This week was a continuous challenge to try and keep everything balanced while the boat was rocking this way and that, things slipping off the table in every direction. It was exhausting but I feel like I had the opportunity to try so many techniques, tackle so many problems, set really realistic goals not lofty ones and achieve them. I am leaving this group very thankful for the weekend but also for the experience and the lessons I have learned this week. With that being said there are still things to learn. I feel like I spent most on the week in a reactionary place allowing it to drive me. I tried to be proactive but I feel like there was more prepping I could have done and preparing once I had a feeling for what the group would be like. I also hated that I ended up calling the boy out ALL the time and most often in front of the group. Next time I hope there is a little more warning from the teachers about the personalities in my group but if not, when I notice a challenging pattern arising I think I want to catch it as early as possible. Put the rest of the group to task (know what that task will be) pull the kid aside and have a heart to heart like I have done millions of times with my teenagers. It is harder to see when that moment has arrived when you are in the thick of it.
It is interesting how, before Monday, you often have a goal for the week and what you want to focus on and it is very rarely what ends up being the biggest challenge of the week.
One of the philosophies I have found resonating deeply with my teaching style is the idea of letting kids be kids. Instead of trying to fit them into the box of what "good kids" look like at this age, trying to meet them where they are and allow them to be free and untamed to a certain extent. I am by no means advocating the totally kid run experience with no structure. I tend to enjoy the "adventure guide" role where they give some inspiration and I meet them there with an activity. Although, I sometimes spend too much time fighting against the surf of their inner motions. Tonight, for instance, on our night hike they were a giggling, chatting ball of energy. I tried every tactic to calm the levels:
Looking back on the night I liked the success of using novelty to rein in that energy. I think I could have done more at the end of the field day to set the mood and dispel fears so they were more prepared for what we were going to do. The tug of war of wills will not be happening again. They are feeling what is normal and their expressions are telling me things about what it means to be a 5th grader from Lincoln elementary, in team rain, getting ready to go on a night hike.