Sunday, September 8, 2019

Make Time for Celebration

image from Clipart Library
licensed for personal use
My class reunion was last week.  I won't talk about how many years ago I graduated, but it was certainly fun to catch up with classmates.  We were a small class so they feel a lot like siblings when I see them.  When I arrived I noticed our physical education teacher from high school was there.  The committee had invited some past teachers to our reunion.  It's important to note that I didn't fall on the athletic side of my class.  Not. At. All.  I would have rather taken an additional physics class than go to gym, but physical education was required.  I ended up in a conversation with this teacher and one of our star athletes back in the day.  My friend was thanking the teacher for pushing her to do her best academically so she could stay in sports - and I had to thank her for always seeing where I was and celebrating the little things in physical education.  It would have been easy to not get dressed for physical education and sit on the sidelines.  However, knowing that I could enter that gym floor every day where I was and just work to improve in some way was enough.  This teacher always saw the tiny things I could do and always knew how to help me with my next step.

Celebrations matter.  

This week I sat down with a team of teachers as they talked about getting to know their students in these first days.  The team was taking a look at the spring assessment data which had been collected the previous year.  Now that they had been beside students for a few weeks, they were discussing the spring information alongside what they were noticing in the classroom.  Their literacy team wanted some time to get beside students who appeared they might need more support, but honestly that number was very small.

"I'm enjoying this group already," the teacher smiled as she talked about particular strengths she had already noted during their literacy block.  "They come to us stronger every year," she added as she talked about the foundation her students seem to have as they entered.  Her team nodded in agreement.  Honestly, that's not something that is said often enough.  I'm sure there might be some factors that make it true, but I also think this teacher has learned to look at where they are and celebrate.  She takes the time to note the steps she wants to see in these first days.  She isn't spending her time looking for what they can't do, she's got her eyes on their strengths - and she celebrates.

How do we get to this place - and how do we hold ourselves there?  It can be easy when we get a new group of students to begin to look for all they don't know.  Perhaps we do this out of a place of self-doubt, worried that we can't get kids where they need to be by the end of the year.  If we aren't careful it can be easy to look at all they don't know, all they need, all they didn't learn the year before they walked in our door and blame their past teachers or their parents.  It can be overwhelming.  What if we just concentrated on where they are?  There's always something to celebrate.

Celebrations matter.

When I taught Reading Recovery the first two weeks of what might be a twenty week program (that's 10% of the time) was devoted to celebrating strengths (more about Roaming in the Known here:  How Soon Is Too Soon for Assessment?).  During those first days the idea was to celebrate what children knew, however small, and make them solid in that knowledge.  What they knew would be the foundation for all that was to come.  I tried to hold myself to these same practices in the classroom and make the first six weeks about celebrating all students know and making them solid in it so we could move forward from there.  If I were to put it into six weeks of a plan it might look like:

  • Celebrate Who They Are:  The first two weeks are spent getting to know about each student as we build our community.  Who are they?  What do they like?  What matters to them?  
  • Celebrate What They Know:  The next two weeks I begin to watch a bit more for what they know about literacy.  These are celebration weeks for sure.  
  • Celebrate How They Flexibly Use What They Know:  Weeks five and six are spent working to be strengthen what we know so we know it well and can be flexible with this knowledge.  

Celebrations matter. 

As I stood with my friend and our physical education teacher it struck me that every time she walked into English class, she probably felt exactly like I felt every time I walked into that gym.  Thankfully, I knew every day I walked into this space that was hard for me, my teacher was going to meet me right where I was.  She probably knew there was plenty of room for growth. ;o)  Thankfully, she helped me celebrate the little steps:  the volleyball that made it over the net, the basketball that did hit the box on the backboard, the quick movement to get to the ball.  She celebrated the little things.  For that I am grateful.  

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