Did you ever read a book that continuously stops you in your tracks? I have been blessed to read many like this over the last couple of years, and once again I feel that I have hit the mother-load with my newest adventure “STOP. RIGHT. NOW. The 39 STOPS to Making Schools Better” by Jimmy Casas and Jeffrey Zoul. This book has left me in complete AWE, smothered in embarrassment, and standing on a soapbox all within a few short STOPS! Oh yes, I am uncomfortable… and crazy enough I thrive on on that feeling because it equates growth in my world and that of the entire educational community!
Oh to the AWE…
I have never really thought about it as much as I should have, but so often we as educators take the immense amount of pressure placed on us to get our students ready for the next grade and we literally create a culture that is developmentally set up for failure. In place of focusing on the now, we feel we are always needing to prepare them for the next level. In STOP 8 Jeff and Jimmy remind us that in order to find balance for every child socially, emotionally, and behaviorally, we must “focus relentlessly on the moments-and the students-before them today.” They are not saying that we ignore yearly goals or refrain from looking to the future to work back to the point we are at, but “if students learn precisely what they need to at each step of their journey, they will ultimately acquire all of the knowledge and skills teachers expect them to possess upon high school graduation.” I too have heard the words come out of my mouth like… “in the real world you will need to OR come next year you will need” and what I really want to be saying is… today we are focusing on ____________ to build a stronger tomorrow for every child!
Eeeek to the Embarrassment…
STOP 1: Assumptions! BOOM! This is my STOP… the one that I have felt on both sides. The one that embarrassed me most because I have been guilty of judging/assuming and let down by being judged. The vulnerability that Jeff showed in sharing his own “humbling- if not humiliating- moment” definitely encouraged readers like me to take a long look on the inside. I have always taken pride in knowing a child’s story and not assuming anything good, bad or indifferent. I have always felt my bonds were so strong because they did not feel judged and that I was always looking to know more to help them grow and be a part of their world. I have felt that so often others come to me and share heartfelt moments that can be challenging to even get the words out, because they know I will listen and won’t judge or assume. However, the one area that I have assumed more than my share has been with my administration. Often, I have passed judgement on decisions based solely on my perspective and the reactionary thought of “have you forgotten so quickly what it is like to be in the classroom or is this really the best for kids?” I have assumed decisions were based on their needs and not of the staff or children. I have assumed their intentions were skewed from what I deemed “good”. I am not excusing myself in any way for making these assumptions, but it wasn’t until I took a risk and started having tough conversations with administrators that I could see their perspective. I am not just referring to my district, but the network of principals, superintendents, tech integration specialists,curriculum directors, assistants at all levels and more that I have brought into my life through my global PLN (Professional Learning Network). This open conversation that gets rather sticky at times and doesn’t always end with agreement. At times we must agree to disagree to be quite honest. However, it nurtures a culture of trust, respect, understanding, appreciation, and a well-rounded balance for the betterment of our community through relationships that do matter. We can try and convince ourselves that there are sides and levels and that crossing them takes you to a “dark side”, but what I see is light… the kind that shines brightly on relationships being built around conversations that need to happen if we want a culture that thrives and not just exists.
Standing on My Soapbox…
When I am really hooked on a book, my students always know because it will be the same one in hand each time we stamina read. I am always with book in hand when they are, but for the same book to be in and out of the classroom for a stretch of time means one and only one thing… Mrs. Nan is in a book study again and can’t get enough! What I love most is when my students’ curiosity peeks and they just have to find out what it is all about. This time, I didn’t share right away. I told them the full title of the book and spun around the question to ask them what they thought we should STOP in education. You could have heard a pin drop… literally. NO ONE spoke and trust me this is RARE! I was actually sad at first because I pride myself on the relationship I have with them and the vulnerability that they normally embrace. This was different. To them, this was crossing a line… and there is no doubt other educators would feel the same. Not me, I need to know. I must take that risk in order to move forward. I reassured them of my love and that in no way would I be offended by their response. I reminded them that I trust them to share their STOP for the betterment of children and their learning. In turn, their hearts shared countless changes they feel would make a difference for all children. These 2 STOPS hit me hard (the lasting impact that they have had on these children for them to talk about it when it isn’t occurring for them this school year is profound.)
“Kids have so much energy, STOP doing NO RECESS!”
I had to know more so I asked. What do you mean by this? I have never known you to lose your recess. To this she replied, “I don’t lose my recess, but the ones who do distract me in class because they need it to get rid of their energy.” BOOM! OH MY WORD! I took pause and thanked her for sharing. Next up…
“STOP Right Now moving bees, clips and more.”
This one came from a child that had grown so much this year. He was learning to value his own voice, behaviors, reactions, and ability. He himself chose “cooperate” for his #OneWord2019 because it can be hard for him and he has realized that when he does do this he really likes himself and school. Once again I needed to know more… Can you tell me what you mean by this? He went on to say that it was really hard for him to sit still and focus and that this happened to him a lot before 3rd grade. He went on to say that it was hard to make friends because of it and it just built up anger and sadness. Sigh…
After these tough conversations, I felt I owed it to their parents to share this unexpected journey with them. I sent out a message that explained the book and how the children shared their viewpoints. I wanted to make sure that they knew it was discussed with respect and that if the topic came home in their daily “table talk” to embrace it and share with me. Not only did the parents appreciate the opportunity, but several of them asked how to purchase the book. This to me was one of the best unplanned lessons I could have ever experienced. This takes me to STOP 39…
STOP #39: Doing What You’ve Always Done… if I were the teacher that I was when I graduated in the spring of 1995, I would be coming up short at every turn. Computers were just arriving on campus and emails were being passed out to many of us who only owned a typewriter. I would have a classroom built on the Industrial Revolution factory/mill mindset in place of the 21st Century. I am the teacher today that my students need me to be. It can be uncomfortable and at times down right messy, but isn’t that what learning and growing really looks like? I cannot guarantee every parent that what I am trying to do in education is the perfect choice with 100% accuracy, but I couldn’t do that 22 years ago when I was hired either. What I can guarantee them is…
- I am not doing what I am doing because it has always been done that way, but instead I am doing what I feel is best for their child.
- I am willing to take any risk that will help their child.
- I am willing to learn with them and from them and alongside them, as I am not and never will be the expert on every topic or idea.
- I will always choose learning that is in their child’s best interest. That will involve state standards, passions, uncomfortable ideas of the unknown, empathy, compassion, respect, confidence, and anything that may bring growth academically, emotionally, behaviorally, and socially.
- I will always advocate for their child.
- I will give second chances because at the age of 46 I still need them.
- I will never take for granted the amount of impact that I have on their child.
- I will create boundaries and discipline their child, and they will know it is because I love them.
- I will empower every child to create opportunity for themselves.
- I will always believe I can be better and in turn they can be too!
We cannot START creating a culture of betterment if we do not STOP doing just because it has always been done. Thank you to Jeff and Jimmy for sparking the conversation that is desperately needed in education today.