Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Really Good Day, or What I Learned in School Today

This has been a difficult school year.  I have a particularly hard class to work with, lots of new district initiatives to spend time on, and, personally, some time-consuming projects at home to handle.  But last week, for the first time in months, we had a really good day at school.

The morning was spent on various projects, with all the children working...yes working.  I didn't have to stop them once to get them to refocus, get them quiet, or get them to stop fighting.

One of the boys, "Johnny", who has trouble working with others, was convinced by his group leader to work with someone in the group he did not want to work with.  And it was all done with him laughing about it.

One child in class, "Billy," showed two acts of kindness during one math project time.  This is not a class known for acts of kindness and to see it twice in one lesson was amazing.  

Another child, "Sally," who is known for having difficulty focusing, working, making herself available for learning, has become the ultimate student - focused, hard working, helpful to others.  And she is actually learning math and social studies, reading and writing.

I spent time going over extra credit projects for our social studies simulation.  This may not sound wonderful, but this class is notorious for NOT doing any work above and beyond what is expected of them.  And it took me almost an hour to go through all the amazing projects that came in.

When the children went out for lunch, I begged, yes begged, them to be kind and respectful outside.  And, for the first time in months, the lunch aides had nothing to tell me about someone fighting, cursing, crying, or complaining. 

I went home that night happy and energized for the first time in a loooooong time.  And now I am starting to try to figure out why this perfect day was followed by another almost perfect day.  Here's my take on it.

First, my personal project was finally completed two weeks ago.  (Some of you know what that personal project was and know it took me a year to complete.  For the rest of you, you will have to wait for the official announcement.)  Finishing the project lifted a huge weight off my shoulders.  You might actually say I am now more relaxed.  And a relaxed teacher makes for a relaxed classroom.

Second, we had a problem with Google docs a while back and had to stop all projects.  So for the last couple of months, much of our work has been teacher directed.  The children do not respond well to teacher directed lessons.  This class especially needs to move and talk and laugh in order to learn.  Teacher directed lessons do not allow for any of that.

But about two weeks ago, we started projects again.  And last week, for the first time in awhile, all we did was work on projects.  The children were talking and moving and laughing and, most important, working and learning.  It was fun.

Third, and, I think the most important, is children really do learn.  It might take them all year to learn the one lesson you are trying to teach them but they do learn.  

So "Johnny" has been working all year to learn to accept an assignment he might not be terribly happy about.  And to work with people he might not want to work with.  I think he finally learned.  My proof is that, later in the day, when he was with a different group and not happy about it, after I spent time talking with his group about their assignments, he said he'd keep his assignment because it sounded fun, and he worked....really worked...for the first time all year.  

And "Billy" has been hearing all year that we must be kind and respectful to everyone.  So have all the other children but "Billy" was ready to finally learn that lesson.  So he offered "Katie" an extra poster board he had when she ruined hers and he let "George" and "Vicky" store their poster boards with his in his special poster board bag so they wouldn't get ruined.  They didn't ask for this kindness, he offered.  I took notice, the class took notice, and "Billy" got written in the Golden Book for the day.

And all year, the children have heard from us that they have to make themselves available for learning.  We are not there to pour information into their heads.  We can help them, provide all the tools they need for success, and be their greatest cheerleaders, but if they don't meet us at least a quarter of the way, we cannot force them to learn.  "Sally" took the longest to learn this lesson but she finally did.  She is proud of her work now and proud of herself.

So for the first time in months, I praised the students for their behavior, their work ethic, their kindness.  For the first time in months, I left school happy.  For the first time in months, I went two whole days without seeing the principal after lunch.  And, for the first time in months, I enjoy what I do.  I want to hold on to this feeling. I want the children to hold on to this feeling.  And I think they will.  The next day was just as good and they are really enjoying the projects.  They actually want to work on them.

I hope next time I get a class like this, and there will be a next time I am sure, I remember that my attitude affects them, that projects are a better way to handle behavior issues, and that praise goes a long way toward changing unwanted behavior.  For now, I am going to enjoy the last couple of months of school.

Image: 'Pro

Be Kind by by arimoore

' 'Sharing some chalk



Karen Bosch (karlyb) said...

Ah, the blessings of having a good learning day! There is nothing better to see students totally engaged with learning without any drama! I hope you may have a few more before the end of the year.

Barbara Day said...

Those moments of success make it all worth while, don't they. Sometimes they are few and far between, but eventually they happen. Thanks for the post.

loonyhiker said...

I'm so glad for you and truly celebrate with you! I think it is wonderful that you also took time to share and reflect about this. Thank you!