Nine days ago...eleven colleagues and myself embarked on a unique and interesting journey. We were given 18 days to make a difference. I'm not going to lie, I went in with some skepticism, but tried not to let it show as one of the "teacher leaders" of the group. I wrote about our upcoming adventure here: "In A Moment".
The first week was a whirlwind...for many reasons. *These are only my thoughts based on my experiences and do not reflect my colleagues' sentiments*:
1) I have not been in charge of a class in four years.
2) We had almost complete autonomy in "curriculum" - which is a good thing!
3) We were a bit confused as to the focus in math.
4) Our students came with differing reasons to join us: many were forced, some chose, a few had no idea and most of them just looked scared.
5) Our students were a mix of incoming 5th and 6th graders from all 18 elementary schools as well as outside of the district. Some students were brought to us to fill gaps, some were with us to receive enrichment, some joined us to get a jump start for next year and some still don't know.
6) There were huge discrepancies in students' experiences in and with math - all coming from different school and classroom environments.
I had high hopes of things we could do in these 2 - two hour periods. Mindsets shifted, switch flip moments, smiles, laughing, learning, risk taking and amazing growth and confidence....
AND THEN REALITY HIT.
Day 1, Minute 1... sitting before me were 27 (mostly strangers to me and each other) looking worried and unsure. I took a deep breath and smiled (Yes...we smile on the first day - all the way through to the last day). When asked, a majority said that there parents made them come. To which I smiled again and let them know that I promised to make their time in Room 24 worth it and that we were going to have fun (with math). They weren't buying it. I don't blame them - for many those two things have often been mutually exclusive. These may be some tough nuts to crack!
I wanted to get to know my new kiddos as learners and as people. I assumed that they would be pretty shy the first day, so I wanted an activity where they could share, without much risk. We jumped right into a "four corners" activity in which they responded to four questions (anonymously in writing). The various responses were interesting, yet surprisingly well balanced. For almost every student that shared that they did not like math or that it was stressful, there was another that said math was boring or it was easy. For every response to "Something I struggle with" there was the same answer on "Something I am good at". After they gallery walked and sorted answers, we attempted a discussion. I knew this was a risk, because we hadn't spent time developing rapport, trust or culture. But all I could think about was "I have 17 1/2 days left..." so we went full speed ahead!
I am not going to bore you with scripting how it went, but I will let you know that it was not one of my proudest moments. Not because of the students, but because of me. I knew better, but I didn't do better (excuse me while I choke on my own words). Not many students spoke because, well... they had no reason to feel safe with myself or their unknown peers. They acted exactly how I would have acted if I walked into a party full of people I didn't know (except they did not have a chip bowl to cling to).
The students that spoke though were amazing...they were honest and vulnerable. They helped me to gather important information that would not show up on any assessment they would be taking for us.
The big ideas from both classes were these (and I am generalizing):
- They felt pressure in math
- Tests make them anxious
- Math time usually consists of the teacher talking and them doing workbook pages
- They are not used to collaborating
- Talking about math (or each other) was a new concept
And there we were... staring at each other. My mind was racing as to how I could remedy the above, give three assessments (the first week) AND actually explore the math - In 17 and 1/4 days (time was ticking). I knew I was rusty, but oh boy! This seemed like a mountain that I just couldn't even find my footing on.
But then something clicked and I went right into full teacher mode. I KNEW that we needed to build culture first (#cultureovercurriculum) and we needed to build it fast. Out came some #eduprotocols (Thank you to my pals Jon Corippo and Marlena Heburn).
I'm not going to lie and say that at the end of day 1 we were all besties, holding hands in a Kumbya Circle - but I did start to see some kids opening up, talking, excitement and smiling. Did we do any math that first day? Besides one of the assessments we had to give (groans from the kids) - NO - there was no math. It was all about building the classroom culture. I wanted to create a safe place for them to #riskforward and #failforward. We talked about making mistakes and struggling - and how these are needed in order to grow. *Luckily- I have made at least one mistake per day, per period as a "model" for them- without of course meaning to.* The best part? They feel comfortable enough to respectfully correct my mistakes - to which I thank them. We can't make this stuff up nor find it in a teacher's manual.
Over the next 8 days...there have been ebbs and flows - but the students have been so positive and willing to stretch their thinking - looking at math differently and enjoying (for the most part) new experiences with math. BUT - one thing for certain - this has absolutely solidified the idea of #cultureovercurriculum for me. I knew this to be true, I practiced it my whole career but as I stated before - I was rusty. I would typically spend the first two weeks of school, building this and I tried to squish it into two hours - and it showed.
Finally, today - as we are literally halfway through the whole Math Camp - I saw students seamlessly working together, sharing ideas and having fun WITH MATH! And they were TALKING...about MATH! 8 days ago, that was a completely foreign concept to many. They actually groaned today (like with the assessment on Day 1) when I asked them to clean up their project, for break. WHAT? Imagine the difference we could make, if we had the time to really lay that foundation of culture. This is great practice and a huge refresher course for me.
Yesterday, we had a discussion in period 2 based on some Memes they saw about teachers and students. They shared with me the images and sarcastic sayings about things that we deal with as teachers, such as: repeating directions more than once, putting names on papers and getting work done. I know these are struggles that we, as teachers face on a day to day basis, but I didn't feel right with the students' discussion - they thought they were funny, but couldn't tell me what was funny about them.
So, we turned into a discussion about respect - mutual. My respect for them, their respect for each other and for myself. And then I asked them this question "Do you guys remember us coming up with class rules? Did I ever tell you about any rules?" They looked at me quizzically and then responded with "No". My next question was "Do you think we need to?" To which they also responded "No". It wasn't until that moment that I realized we had, in fact, built our classroom culture. Maybe I am naive and/or just blessed with two periods of the most amazing kiddos or we were on to something here. Maybe respect goes a long way?
I'm not going to lie, three days ago - I was questioning my effectiveness as a classroom leader. Maybe I had lost it in those four years? I think I used to be good at this...but maybe I wasn't.
All I can say is that I am failing, reflecting, learning, growing and having fun! I believe that these kids are having fun as well. I am listening and talking with them as they are working on their tasks and they are excitedly participating in different experiences than their norm - and THAT, my friends, is my goal with these #18daysSV.
There is SOOO much more I could write about on this experience, but I am going to hold that, for now, and just see what these last 9 days hold for us!
Thank you to the #MathMavericks in Room 24 and my amazing colleagues that are sharing this journey with me!
Mother, Teacher, Presenter, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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