Most of us, swimming against the tides of trouble the world knows nothing about, need only a bit of praise or encouragement — and we will make the goal.
Bonnie Fowler ran her first marathon in 2012. Even though her pace put her near the back of the pack for the race, she felt lucky and supported the whole way. She had a training partner who ran with her, plus a few friends who put on their sneakers and ran the last few miles with her as encouragement. But she noticed others weren’t so fortunate. In those last miles, many runners were struggling to finish, with no one to cheer them on through that final stretch.
After the race, Bonnie couldn’t get the memory of those lonely runners in the last miles of the race out of her mind. So she founded an organization, Bonnie’s Dream Team, that provides “running angels” for the last few miles of marathons. The volunteers approach anyone who looks like they could use an angel late in the race. As Bonnie explained to Runner’s World:
We identify who is having a hard time, and ask, ‘Can we run with you?’ Some people we run with for 1K, some we run with for five or six, and they say, ‘No, no, don’t leave me.’ Some runners just need a smile or an encouraging word. Members of the team will tell you they’ve never experienced anything so emotional—people thanking them, hugging them. It’s incredible.
Reading about Bonnie’s Dream Team reminds me of a couple of years ago when I ran a 10K for the first time in many years. Calling my pace “running” is a bit of a stretch — it was a very slow jog. Of the thousands of people in the race, I was near the back of the pack. But I met my goal of jogging the whole way.
The course wound through a small New England town, and the roads were lined with townspeople the whole way, waving flags, cheering, with some playing guitars or inspiring music from old boomboxes. I noticed a strange thing early in the race. Another racer named Brenda was running near me, because people kept calling out encouragement to her. “You can do this Brenda!” “You’re doing great, Brenda!” The first couple miles I kept looking around, trying to spot the other Brenda. I figured she must be local, since everyone knew her well.
It was only after the first few miles of the race, when we’d thinned out and I was running with no one close to me, that I caught the eye of a smiling woman on a sidewalk, not five feet from me. “Way to go Brenda!” she yelled, and she pumped her fist at me in triumph. It was then that I realized “Brenda” was me. At the end of the race I saw my name in big block letters on the racing bib, something I hadn’t noticed when I’d picked it up. In effect, this entire town was a Bonnie’s Dream Team, cheering for every runner by name, and making a special effort for those of us who weren’t going to finish anywhere near the leaders (or maybe even finish at all).
Encouragement that comes with your name attached is powerful. Here’s a simple idea for the start of the year — how about having kids wear name tags through the first week or two of school, and set a goal for staff of everyone encouraging at least 5 or 10 children by name as they see them in hallways, on the playground, in the cafeteria? So many children are swimming against the tide, or running a race they have no chance of winning — a simple acknowledgment of kindness by name can make all the difference in letting them know we see them, and they matter.
This week we consider how to celebrate diversity within classroom communities at the start of the year. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Founder, Choice Literacy
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Andie Cunningham shares a booklist to help build home/school connections in “This Could Be Our Family”: Books for Children with Lesbian and Gay Parents:
Asking children to share hopes and dreams at the start of the school year is a great way to discover differences and celebrate community in the first days of school:
Sarah Cooper’s advice for the start of the school year? Slow down:
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Mary Lee Hahn begins the year with honest and open discussions with her fifth-grade students about diversity in What Difference Does Difference Make?:
Ruth Ayres finds the brain research is grim when it comes to the needs of neglected children, but there is still much that teachers can do to support healthy growth in students from challenging home environments:
Stella Villalba rethinks the seemingly innocuous “What did you do last summer?” writing assignment at the start of the year, especially for children who may have more limited experiences than peers:
Melanie Swider believes access to supplies is crucial for student independence, and she even has students in charge of monitoring and replenishing materials. This is the final installment in Melanie’s classroom environment series:
In an encore video, Ruth Shagoury confers with a child in the silent period. She talks about the challenges of building connections with students who do little speaking in conferences:
That’s all for this week!