Envisioning the Whole Child
It's after midnight and I can't sleep. I've just watched a movie that I can't really get over: it's called Arrival. Based on a short story by Chiang, "The Story of Your Life," the movie examines the complexity of time and choices and pain. As the aliens communicate their cyclical language, unbound by the confines of time, it is clear that their universal language sees everything as it simply is in its entirety at one moment.
So, why am I sitting here writing and thinking it has any connection to education?. I'll try to explain. In the movie, because the linguist narrator learns their language, she begins thinking in their language and can therefore examine life without the boundary of time. She floats from when her child was a baby to the memory of her death to the moments she had in between. So, all the while, her perspective is on literally the whole child, not just the individual moment.
And so I'm laying here thinking about how very cute babies are and their first moments. And then I'm thinking about how our students arrive to us each day, some beaten down by life, some responding in not always nice ways. It's easy to become jaded as a teacher, but what I'm wondering, is if we pictured that student in his or her entirety, start to finish, if we could see that student as an eager kindergartener sitting upon the tiger carpet square, sqiggling just to choose a book to read in class, if we could have a lens of the entire life and see the joy that kid felt the first time he solved a math problem in his first grade years, if we could see his wonderment as a two year old playing with a squishy caterpillar, in wonder and awe over its novelty., If perhaps we could see her grubby hands spinning the globe in wonderment, drawing and singing about her discoveries.. then would we plan differently with our content, speak differently when we're on the verge of exasperation with behavior, think differently when we hear another person giving up hope on that child?
It's a complex question but one that's keeping me awake tonight. The pivotal question in the movie was the following: if you could see your life start to finish would you change anything?. And so, tonight, as an educator, I'm wondering... If I could see my students' lives start to finish, would I change anything about my role in their lives?. Would I walk by that student having a tough day?. Would I make that lesson more enthralling?. Would I take a second with my own child to read a book? If every second determines every little direction (and we know through neuroscience it does), then are we channeling every opportunity we get with every child, even the ones who come to us from very hard places for the future result we want to see?
If we could see our students lives birth to the future all at the same moment, and if we could see our own in the same way, are we living each moment out the way we want the end path to look?. And alas, I lie awake.
It's that classroom moment when you slowly see sanity slipping out of your control because suddenly a child can't go to the bathroom in that last fifteen minutes or get in without a pass, and she doesn't like your call. It's that minivan moment when one child's immediate needs can't be fulfilled amidst changing the Wheels on the Bus song during changing lanes, while sipping your coffee, and attempting trying to make a phone call (okay, so not all at once), and that kid wants to argue with you or complain. That feeling of dread begins to seep into the pit of your stomach, actually adrenaline in your brain to be exact, and you prepare to win the fight with whatever tools necessary.
But what if...there were magic words that might be your saving grace, your powerful sword pulled from the impossible stone? What if there were a way to go home more rested instead of exhausted because you didn't spend your time engaged in teenage spiffs? What if it were really possible to not lose as much classtime on that student who thinks he just signed a contract with Rotten Tomatoes to review your classroom like a movie? Well, in fact, maybe there is a way to overcome that adrenaline coursing your veins that expends your energy supply and instead use effortless logic to overcome a child's argumentative nature, a part of character development.
So what do we often hear from students when they want to continue being kids, continue not doing work, or really, just continuing to do what they want to do?
Here are some familiar words that attempt argument: "But look at what he was doing; It wasn't me; This is boring; You are sickening; This is too much; But he...; But she...; But I need it to...; you don't like me; you're "annoying me." I'm sure your list of phrases is even more detailed that that, but the point of the matter remains; kids have arguing words, and perhaps stronger ones than we, especially when it's important to keep it professional as educators.
Get to the point and reveal the words, right? When you hear these "fighting" words from your students, in your own way when the child makes up any one of these excuses or others, use the magic words, or your version of the magic words boringly, without tone, and without sarcasm, and if you're especially good, with empathy, which means understanding where that student may be coming from that morning. And the words? Just a simple "I know" in response to diffuse the situation. And if you're asking the student to respond with an action and they're not? Just a simple, " I know...but what did I say?" will work some magic for you. If you have your own version of the words, that will neutralize the argument, feel free to share below.
If you'd like to read more about this successful approach to diffusing arguments, feel free to pick up a copy of Teaching with Love and Logic by Jim Faye.
Let's face it. With lesson planning, running our classes, and being daily superheroes to our students, we rarely have a chance to place our thoughts about good student behavior or contribution into words. In fact, I keep drifting by small pre made cards at Target that I keep wanting to place into my cart to give out to others. Their mad libbian appeal is that I can complete them quickly yet they are thoughtful. But, alas, we know what happens at Target is an avalanche of cutesy gear for an even cutsier price. So, why not bring the idea home for a better price point?
And voila, the BARK out was created. I'll be placing these in boxes sometime next week. They're not a requirement, there's not a minimum. Just use them as you please to notice and encourage students. Even if it's not the student who usually comes to mind, pick someone who needs encouragement and let them know you've noticed them and they matter. This is just a small way we can build encouragement and a positive culture into our daily routine.
Perhaps these sunshiney notes of cheer aren't your typical cup of tea, but they're guaranteed to shine some light into some dark places and fuel even greater energy into already bright ones. As you already understand, you are the light to so many. Keep on shining Bulldogs. Your passion inspires us each and every day. For real, for real.
Here is a permanent link of the file to print.
Ms. Kristen LeClair: