It was a cold morning in mid-November. Early, only about 6:00 a.m. My wife and I were tired, nervous, worried, scared, and a little excited. Mostly nervous though. You see, we were on our way to a meeting to find out if we would be chosen as the forever family for a child we hoped to adopt. The drive was long and the roads were mostly straight and boring. Highway driving is no fun when you’re tired or preoccupied, both of which applied in my case. Would the permanency committee choose us? Would we finally be able to start a family and become parents? What if we are not chosen? What if we are chosen? Are we ready to be parents? I couldn’t think straight that morning as questions zoomed around my mind like mosquitos at a campground. It certainly didn’t take long for negative thoughts to enter my stream of consciousness. We will never be chosen, I thought. Why are we even trying? As this cacophony of questions and thoughts swirled about in my brain, I struggled to stay focused on driving. While I tried to be an attentive driver, my brain wanted me to ponder so many other things. As we approached our destination, blue lights erupted in my rear view mirror. What is going on, I thought. And that’s when I realized that I was going excessively fast on the highway. As the police officer told me what I already knew, I didn’t get angry or mad at myself. Even when he gave me a ticket for $220, I didn’t freak out or go to a negative place mentally. I saw this experience as an omen. It was in that moment that I realized that everything was going to work out as it should. I was filled with a sense of inner peace. My negative thoughts began to turn positive. In that brief moment, I realized that something amazing was going to happen. And sure enough, when we got to that meeting, we were chosen to be our son’s forever family. Being pulled over by the police officer woke me up to the truth that the universe already knew. We were going to become parents that day. But, because we were so preoccupied with negative and positive emotions and thoughts, we couldn’t see what was right in front of us. That incident that cost us a large sum of money, was just the thing I needed to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Today in my Humanities class, a similar light appeared to me. After returning from vacation a little over two weeks ago, our students have been acting a bit differently. They’ve been more focused, more intuned in the classroom. They have been coexisting with their peers better than ever before. They are using a growth mindset to overcome challenges and learn new information with an open mind and broad perspective. They seem to have applied all of the feedback we’ve been giving them since September to grow and develop as students, thinkers, learners, and people. It’s been amazing. What’s weird about it though, is that I didn’t really see the big picture. It didn’t occur to me that something special was happening in the classroom. Despite discussing, with my colleagues, the great changes I witnessed in the classroom from my students since their return from winter vacation, I wasn’t able to put the pieces of the puzzle together. I wasn’t able to see that my sixth grade class had morphed into a dedicated, compassionate, and hard working group of students. Now, they have always been a remarkable class, don’t get me wrong. It’s not like they were horrible children before break and miraculously turned into perfect students. No, they have always been a great group of young men, but something changed after break. They kicked their student parts into overdrive. They were now absolutely phenomenal students capable of greatness in every way. It wasn’t until today, however, that I was able to, once again, see that light at the end of the tunnel.
At the end of my Humanities class today, as my students slowly left the room in preparation for their next class, asking me insightful follow-up questions to what I had mentioned at the close of the lesson, I realized that things weren’t like they were before break anymore. I’m no longer putting out fires between students. I’m no longer trying to find new ways to challenge and support the students who refuse to make use of a growth mindset in the classroom. I’m now able to cover more curriculum and have more fun with the content and lessons because we’ve hit our stride. Things have really come together for us as a class. It’s truly amazing. In that moment, it hit me. It was like a bolt of lightning had struck me. As I pondered this epiphany, I began to wonder, How did this happen? What led to this sudden transformation? How was this group of students able to overcome adversity and climb to the top of the sixth grade mountain so early in the academic year? This is the first year that I’ve had a group achieve such greatness so early in the year. What’s going on? Is there something funky in the water? Is it the weather? I suddenly became very curious.
As I thought long and hard about what could have caused this amazing transformation in the classroom, I came to one conclusion. My students have changed into effective learners, thinkers, students, and peers so early in the academic year because my co-teacher and I implemented a unit on mindfulness and the brain at the start of the year. That’s got to be the reason for the change, as everything else is the same. The curriculum is basically the same as it has been for the past few years, minus some minor tweaks. Our approach and program are the same as they have been. The only difference is that we covered a unit on the brain and learning in our study skills class at the beginning of the academic year. We talked to the boys about the plasticity of their brain and how it’s possible to learn anything, if you think you can. We taught the students mindfulness and relaxation techniques. We explained the power of using a growth mindset in and out of the classroom. We helped the students understand how they could be the most effective students possible. This one slight change must be what caused the huge change I’ve seen in my students since their return from vacation. As they now realize that they can do anything they put their minds to, they are more able to persevere through challenges, ask for help, solve their own problems, and think critically about the world around them.
Is that really what’s going on? Is that one unit the cause of this awesome transformation? Perhaps. Or maybe it’s something else entirely. Maybe next year when I begin the academic year the same way I started this one, I’ll get the same result, which will confirm my suspicions. Or maybe I won’t. Maybe I won’t see this same, rapid transformation in next year’s class. Despite all of this uncertainty, I am certain that my students have changed into super students, capable of accomplishing great things. As today made me realize what the universe already knew, I’m able to now notice and make observations that might help me to uncover the truth behind what happened to my students. I’m just glad, however, that today’s epiphany didn’t cost me $220.