If you see something beautiful in someone, speak it.
Before the students even walked through the door of my classroom, I had heard about this class. They were infamously disengaged and challenging learners. Teachers had been feeling it for years. Although I tried not to let what I had heard shade my perception, I have to admit I felt it too.
That is why my jaw dropped when I was looking over the results of a statewide survey and noticed there was one area in which our school scored significantly lower than the state average—a difference of 20 points. Grit. The grit category asked students to use a Likert scale to convey how well they felt each statement described them. The statements included sentences such as I am a hard worker and I don’t give up easily.
There it was in black and white. The feeling teachers had communicated about this group of students was represented in tidy little bar graphs. The hard data was just the mirror I needed to reflect my own ugly assumptions about this class. I did not like what I was seeing. The reality of this truth walloped me, and I knew I had to face it.
The next day I projected the survey results for my eighth graders and explained what they were looking at. Then I had to ask, “So, what do you think? Does this really capture who you are?”
“Yeah, that’s pretty much me. I am not really a hard worker.”
The quiet voice came from the back of the room. A student who rarely spoke up and had perfected the art of work avoidance mumbled his agreement with the survey results.
And all of a sudden, an image came to mind. The same student slumped down in his seat at the back of the room had participated in an open gym the previous week. For over an hour, I had watched this kid take challenging shots at the basketball hoop—shots I was sure he knew he was unlikely to make. Not once did he miss a shot and move into an easier position. He continued to push himself from long distances and tricky angles no matter the result. Giving up did not seem to even cross his mind. That took hard work, determination, and commitment. In other words, it took grit.
“That’s not true,” I blurted out. I shared my open gym memory with the student. I explained how I disagreed that he was “not really a hard worker” because I had seen him work hard on the basketball court.
A wide grin began to spread across his face. His shoulders straightened up a bit, and he was no longer looking at the floor. I was struck by the power my words had. It was like I was holding up a mirror and for the first time, this student liked what he saw.
So did I.
I stepped back and looked out at the classroom filled with students who deserved for me to project a more flattering reflection of them than the one I had been carrying. I made a silent pledge to be more careful about the messages I send to students about who they are.
The stories we tell ourselves about students become the stories they tell themselves. Join me in honoring students by reflecting back to them all the good we see.
This week we tackle a tough subject — learning from failure. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Contributor, Choice Literacy
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Writers in the real world abandon drafts all the time, yet it’s a strategy that isn’t often encouraged in classrooms. Heather Rader considers the thorny issue of how teachers can promote this strategy, yet still deal well with those students who never finish any drafts:
“You’re a sucky teacher!” How would you respond if a student hurled those words at you? Katie Baydo-Reed shares a deeply honest and personal account of the year early in her career when she developed a corrosive relationship with her students, and what she learned from the experience about compassion:
Brene Brown talks about how parents can teach children to fail well:
Tricia Ebarvia explains why dealing with shame is at the heart of growth for teachers:
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Christy Rush-Levine discovers it’s important to “push pause” to deal with failure in the midst of teaching:
Mary Lee Hahn tries to be super teacher while she confers — juggling goals, assessments, notices and notes . . . and then it all comes crashing down. She shares what she learns from trying to do too much at once and failing:
Shari Frost deals with the failure of a classic read-aloud text to reach young African American boys by finding more engaging books for them:
In this week’s video, Christy Rush-Levine confers with eighth grader Julian about his strengths as an empathetic reader:
In an encore video, Franki Sibberson works with a small group of students who often abandon books, discussing strategies they are going to try to build reading stamina:
That’s all for this week!