While on expedition in Peru, I bought a bracelet from a Shipibo family that caught my eye. It is made of beads woven together in a large cuff with purple and white colors in a flower-like pattern. Since returning from expedition, I have worn it everyday. A few students have noticed that I wear it every day and wanted to know if it was special. Why yes, it is and I would recall the story of seeing it, buying it, and ultimately deciding I would always wear it.
I need to take a few steps back here though, and tell you that one of my personal and professional goals this year is to improve my classroom culture. You see, I teach grade K-5 science, which means I teach 16 different classes and have very limited time. My first seven years of teaching were in a general classroom where I had a lot more face time with students and felt building culture was easier. For the last 5 years as a science only teacher, I have struggled to really build culture in my room, really get to know my students on a personal level. This past summer, I read EduProtocols, which has terrific ideas for integrating technology and opportunities for classroom culture building. I literally used it in my professional goal this year and have post-it note-d and highlighted it UP. I have also chosen to really embrace storytelling in my teaching and hooks from Teach Like a Pirate to enhance my teaching as well and connect with my students on a few more levels. When I make a goal, I go all out — I also have Culturize and Kids Deserve It ready in the wings as my trusty sidekicks on this expedition.
Back to my bracelet. I love this thing for so many reasons. When my students ask about it, I fly into stories. One particular student was excited to hear my story and shared that she had one (a breacelt) too. For weeks, everytime she saw me, she would look at my bracelet and sigh, she had forgotten to bring hers so we could be “twinsies”. She told me that her bracelet was also special; her father brought it back from a trip to South America. Well, the day arrived, yesterday, when she remembered her bracelet and we took a twinsie picture together. That right there-meant a lot to this student and if I am being honest, it meant a lot to me. So much so that I was beaming for the rest of the day just thinking about the culmination of the bracelet ordeal.
A week ago, a former student stopped me in the hallway. I mean, got in front of me, stopped me. He told me that he had not had a chance to tell me before, but he really enjoyed a TED-like talk I did for the high schoolers about my expedition to the Amazon. He followed that with “You should really do a TED talk, like a real one.” I then shared that it is on my list of things I would really like to do, so that comment really meant a lot to me. In fact, I applied to be a TED Fellow for 2019; it is incredibly competitive. He then thanked me for telling him about my goal and he would check back with me in February (that’s when I will know the results).
A middle schooler shared with me today that a goal of hers is to go with me to the Amazon; I just presented my TED-like talk to them (middle schoolers) on Monday. Another middle schooler told me that she wished she could speak like I do and she and her friends were talking about my assembly. This is pretty ironic, considering I left that assembly sure that I had just wasted 25 minutes of these students’ time. I just did not feel as if I did the best job getting my message across to them.
A month ago, a third grader shared with me about a trip he made to a local museum. He described an art exhibit that was all about perspective and how the artist used science to show how perspective can be altered. Each day, he seemed to remember a new detail he had not told me and sought me out at carline to tell me. I asked him if he would share his experience with the class, (his mother had sent me pictures of the art) and he took them on a virtual tour. Both the student and his classmates were so excited about it, you could feel their energy bubbling out of the room. I sat back and just took it all in. I was proud of them all; proud of the culture we built together in that room.
Countless times this semester, students I currently teach have sought me out to ask about my goals and exciting things I told them were coming up for me personally. It is amazing to have students remember these details and follow up just like I do with them.
After I presented my TED-like talk to the high school students, a fourth grader asked me how it went. She also noticed I wore a particularly sparkly pair of sequin shoes that day. She mentioned that “it must have been a special day”. I told her THAT was the day I presented to the “big kids” and those shoes always make me feel confident and fabulous. I also shared that the talk went really well and I enjoyed speaking about my experience. She gave me a hug and said, “I knew those shoes meant that the day was special, it was probably the day you did your talk.” My eyes are teary as I type that for you, it was an incredible moment for me as an educator; having a student make such observations and check in on ME.
The more I open up to my students, the more I share, the more I listen to them and allow them to also share with me, the more I learn. That sounds like a complete “duh” concept, but it has taken some time for me to “get it”. I always wanted to really know more about students but I think we can all relate to the “I have no time” panic — I get stuck in that too. It clouded my vision often, I wasn’t able to commit the time to my students to really dive deep and connect. It is not as if I did not know my students at all, but this year, it has definitely been different. Making building culture a priority has made a difference in the types of things students share, the increased excitement to come to science, and their commitment to trying new and difficult tasks in the laboratory. I did not really have an issue with students being excited to come to science, but I can tell a difference in their excitement, it’s not just about the experience I planned for them, it is about knowing that I am interested in them. I share with them my excitements, my fears, my goals, and journey along the way to achieve my goals. In turn, they want to share their stories, excitements, fears, goals, and journeys as well. I have received more emails from parents this year talking about their student’s excitement and anticipation of science than I ever have.
I am building authentic culture and it has made all the difference.