Summer Time is Learning Time: Part II

I want to begin today’s entry with a story, as stories are an effective way of conveying information to others in a meaningful way.  Just read the fantastic book entitled Made to Stick by the Heath Brothers.  It does a wonderful job explaining the power of stories in teaching and life in general.  So, here is my story for today…

It all started with a hat.  A winter hat in fact.  You see, I never used to be one for wearing hats when I was younger.  When my mother made me wear one to school, I took it off as soon as I was out of her sight.  Hats weren’t considered “cool” back then.  In high school, I did wear a baseball cap to school, as we were allowed to don them at Lebanon High.  I guess I chose to wear one because I could; other than that, I’m not exactly sure why I wore one, as I’ve never really understood the purpose of caps.  They seem like an unnecessary accoutrement, unless you like offering free advertising to big business.  However, living in New England and being mostly bald, winters can be very cold.  After marrying my lovely wife, we moved to Maine, where the winters are especially bitter, snowy, and freezing cold.  To help make my transition a bit warmer and more comfortable, my grandmother bought me a winter hat.  It wasn’t super thick, but it covered my head and kept me warm.  It was blue and gray.  At first, I didn’t really wear it, as I still didn’t see the purpose of the hat, but about a week or so later, my grandmother passed away.  It was quick and sudden.  I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye.  As I was very close to my grandmother, her death hit me hard.  I clung to every memory of her like it was gold.  That’s when I remembered the hat she had given me when she had last come to visit my wife and I in Maine.  I put it on that night and never took it off, metaphorically speaking.  I wore it whenever I went out and about, no matter the season.  I wore it all year long, like a lifeline to my grandmother.  While that first, special hat did eventually need to be replaced, I never stopped wearing a similar winter hat all year long.  17 years later, I’m still wearing a winter hat.  Even today while it was 85 degrees outside, I wore my hat when I went out to run some errands this morning.  My hat is like my security blanket and a constant reminder of the many great things my grandmother did for me.  She was my security blanket.

Why am I telling this particularly sad story in the midst of summer vacation, you are probably asking yourself right now.  Well, I’ll tell you.  Even though I know what my winter hat represents and why I wear it year-round, very few other people know or understand my rationale.  So, consequently, I get asked frequently why I’m wearing a hat in the middle of summer.  Some people call me crazy.  Some people think I’m strange.  Some people make fun of me and tell jokes at my expense.  And you know what, it doesn’t bother me a bit.  I try not to waste my precious time on this wonderful Earth worrying about what other people think of me and my actions.  Instead, I try to focus on living and experiencing life.  This same philosophy applies to my teaching, I am always focused on honing my practice so that I can better help, challenge, and support my current and future students.  I don’t let summer vacation, the heat, or my grueling search for a summer job get in the way.  I keep reading, learning, looking, and growing.

This past week, I finished reading the educational text Closing Circles: 50 Activities for Ending the Day in a Positive Way by Dana Januszka and Kristen Vincent.  While I utilized a version of a Closing Circle in my classroom in previous years, I knew that there was more I could be doing, and so I chose to make this book my second summer read.  Although the book is filled with great ideas and activities that I look forward to using in my classroom, because the philosophy behind the Closing Circle and the Responsive Classroom approach to education is not new to me, I didn’t learn any new approaches to teaching from this book.  However, if you are not familiar with the Responsive Classroom approach to teaching or the concept of a Closing Circle, then I highly recommend this book for you.  The Introduction includes an overview of the rationale behind the Closing Circle and how it greatly benefits students.  As all great teachers do, we work tirelessly to create a compassionate community within our classroom, and the Closing Circle is a meaningful and effective way to end each day before sending the students out into the crazy world.  So, while I didn’t learn any new pedagogy from this book, it reaffirmed what I already know and try to do in the classroom.  It did, however, give me lots of nifty ideas that I plan on incorporating into my classroom in several short weeks.

At this point, I plan on using the Around-the Circle Sharing activity during our first Closing Circle of the new school year, as I feel that it will offer the students a safe place in which to push themselves outside of their comfort zone a bit.  The activity asks each student to offer an answer or response to a question the teacher poses.  A question I might use on day one would be, “What’s one new thing you learned today?”  The open-ended nature of the question allows for creativity and variety in responses.  It also encourages a community of openness, new things, and learning.  While it may be difficult for some students to be put on the spot, with the smaller class size that I will have this year, I will have the time and space to support all of my students.  In a larger class, you could allow students to pass if they are struggling to think of something to share.  However, I would recommend that you push all of your students to share, even if it is something short and simple like, “Math.”  One word responses provide a foundation for future growth and learning to take place.  Safety and care are the base of the pyramid of fun and happiness in the classroom.  Our students need to feel safe and cared for, and sometimes during the first few days, students are testing the waters of safety and care.  By allowing students options and choice, they feel empowered and cared for, which is the beginning of lasting relationships in the classroom.

Like an infant, seeing the world for the first time, I love learning new ways to approach teaching.  This wonderful book provided me much fodder for growth and learning as a teacher.  If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, I highly suggest it.  You may also want to read the Responsive Classroom’s book on Morning Meetings, if you want more cool ideas on how to foster a strong sense of community within the classroom.  My previous blog entry detailed my thoughts on this amazing text, not that I’m self-promoting, but if you are bored and have a spare few minutes, check it out.  Now, I will continue my educational journey to grow and develop as a teacher, all while donning the memory of my grandmother upon my balding head.

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