As I was scrolling through a friend's feed the other day, a graphic's words really captured my attention. As both a visual learner and an English major, there's nothing more attractive than pretty words with a deep meaning. Quite simply, I noticed a translation of a proverb: "Anyone can find the dirt in someone; be the one who finds the gold." After reading those words, it hit me: in the classroom and in life, oh how our goal should be to view ourselves as gold miners as educators and human beings.
When we think of gold and how very precious it is, seldom do we realize what it looked like in its pure form, covered with soot and minerals. When our students come to us daily, there are some that stand out quite plainly to us as pure gold; there are others that may show mostly gold but have dark places; yet some may only show a fleck here are there; and perhaps in a few, gold is not visible whatsoever. But in those moments, even when we cannot see the gold, we must trust that it is there somewhere. Understanding our students' needs, maybe they come to us underfed; perhaps underhugged, perhaps underengaged (though not all), and life itself keeps layering soot upon them. But, we have the power to remove it and refine. We are those who spend the most time with them in a day.
Even more, we must realize that as a school functions as a gold mine in that we are taking students from their pure form, finding the gold in them little by little and moving them along to our colleagues who may wash them with a bit more knowledge, a little dash more of life skills, a little bit more refining, a little bit more uncovering of gold. We may sit as their teacher in ninth grade and not see very much difference. Perhaps we saw the gleam of that gold one day sitting in class on one assignment or here and there, but we don't recognize that we are part of a larger process. Take encouragement in the role that you play along the journey. You too are responsible for how much gold we can see as they are seniors and walk across the stage.
So get practical, instead of metaphorical, right? Sounds good.
Carpe Aurum: 10 Steps
1. Greet your students on an everyday basis. Stand at the door. Notice a sweatshirt color that looks nice on them. Ask if their weekend was "ok." If they are looking non-engaged, ask them if they've eaten. Perhaps have an emergency snack drawer. Have them complete an interest inventory (I sent one out at the beginning of the year) so that you know how they learn. Some kids light up and show their gold when they are complimented. Others need a tap on the shoulder. Some need you to pick up a pencil off the floor if they've dropped it (it's not demeaning; they can still be independent with you helping them :)). Grab a lunch tray and toss it in the trash for them (after they've eaten it, of course). Look for opportunities to serve, through action, through words, through just a question. And if you're interested in using something called dinner questions, where you build community through critical thinking, I've ordered a good number of books, so just ask. If you've been given a pet warm fuzzy, tear off a piece and let them know you're thinking of them, that you believe in them. And if you're interested in a classroom pet, just ask.
2.Try to resolve conflict by diffusing rather than inciting. Not everything that is said in a classroom has to be equally matched in strength. If a student is talking loudly, just talk more quietly (one of you amazing teachers does this already). If a student calls you "too much," "crazy," or questions your curriculum, own it to diffuse it. "Yes, I know." "How did you know that was my middle name?" "I understand. Learning is hard work." And at the end of the day, realize they may be projecting whatever has happened at the beginning of the day on the work, and it's not really you or your work...it's just life. So maybe even divert by saying, "everything ok?" whether privately or publicly. If they come into your classroom and you can tell they're down, resolve the conflict before it even starts, by letting them know you are there if they need anything. Humor was created for a reason, and it helps when we human beings get a little too serious (releases pleasing brain chemicals, really.)
3.Provide opportunities for movement and plan it in your lessons. If you've ever raised a kid or had a nephew/niece, godson/goddaughter, or even kept the nursery at church, you know that some boys and girls are just full of energy and can't sit still. Movement is a mechanism that allows our brains to stay awake and alert. Use movement to your advantage. Try putting sticky notes all over the room for a bell ringer instead of sitting at the desk. Have students move around the room to GET ONE, GIVE ONE if they are sharing with one another. Have an academic discussion where you are reading the text and you ask a question; students must stand and buzz in in order to give their answer. It's not movie culture or the 21st century that has damaged our students; we humans naturally have always needed movement. We weren't biologically designed for sitting still. There is health in movement, and even in mining, you've got to put some sifting movement in the pan to find what you're looking for in the muck.
4. When a student possesses a strength, use it for the classroom and create roles to give them ownership. Have you noticed that a student is particularly kind and polite? Seize the gold. Give him or her the chance to answer the phone or the door. Is there another student who possesses excellent spatial knowledge? Let him design the layout of your classroom. Do you know the kid who just likes materials clean and organized? Why allow him/her to take up materials or pass them out to other students. Have a kid really interested in a concept? Let him/her teach. When you see a strength, play on it. Use it for the classroom.
5. Change it up! Change up your classroom format so it allows students who normally would choose the back row, not to have a back-row choice. Make sure you make a mental note and know all students have participated. In terms of structure, allow students change to pods of however many when the lesson is best for pods. Change to two sides facing each other if you have a debate or persuasive prompt. Build the message of a community day on a subject that is difficult by structuring the classroom in a large U formation. Know what you want to communicate to your students and allow your classroom to match what you need. If it's a solitary writing day, isolate the desks in different corner of the room for privacy. And use lighting to communicate your needs as well. Students whose gold might not shine in one arrangement might blind us in another.
6. Create positive communication by sending around a Kudos list. Ask students to write down their parents' best contact number if they want you to give them a Kudos call. The contact information you receive will be accurate, and you may need it in the future. Maybe it's a particularly hard day, and that call may make the difference in that child's encouragement. And really call the numbers with a positive thing to say, no negative. You'd be surprised how well you are received when you take the time to first find the gold in a kid. And in the year, if there is something you have to say that is grounds for improvement, simply sandwich the improvement statement in two bits of good. I'll never forget the day that a student was so sad in the hallway because her mom didn't believe she could make it in college. I got the child's mom's number and told her just what I thought of her child. We ended the call by the mom begging me to let the child know just how proud she was of her.
7. Give stability with rituals and routines tempered by high expectations and mercy. Just as a person whose pan was bent could not mine gold as efficiently, so your classroom is the stability students need in order to truly shine. It is important that they learn to speak positively, that they are able to listen by speaking one at a time, and that they are able to respect one another's property by touching only what is theirs. There are some days when you will have to repeat your rituals and routines EXPLICITLY. In fact, there's no problem with humorously reintroducing yourself daily and reminding them what your rules are. In addition, it is important to communicate the sacredness of class time. We don't usher students into class because that's our job and that's what we were told to do. We do it because by doing so, it sets a routine for them they can use later in life and it prepares them for the day of learning. We are setting the stage for them to see themselves shine.
8. Don't listen to OTT (Other-teacher-talk) and begin each day as a brand new day. Little Johnny has had problems since eighth grade? It doesn't matter; you have the power to win him over with your class brand and the power to give him a new identity of greatness. There's gold there somewhere. To find real gold, we can't borrow our neighbor's glasses and perception. They may be blurred because they never clean them. We've got to filter the student through ourselves and our classroom. Someone been on that ISS list for days? It doesn't matter. Give the gift of learning to every student, every day, with a brand new slate. Another kid insulted you the day before? In your mind, you see only gold. That disobedient kid disappeared yesterday. How can you intervene to make today an okay day and scaffold her to wash away the layers?
9, Give kids belongingness by branding your class and making them yours. Build community in your classroom. Just as a last name gives us identity, so kids can take on your last name academically. Failing three classes? Tell the kid, "Oh no, you're a Smith. Smiths pass all their classes." Have some little routine or feedback for one another that is distinctly yours. Maybe you sing something. Perhaps you give everyone a high five. Maybe students snap their fingers when another student has done good work. Teach the kids to operate in a community. These days, we all really understand divisiveness in our larger social community. Let them thrive by setting the foundation for learning and showing them that people can get along with one another. AND encourage one another as colleagues and let students seeing you doing it. The gift of seeing adults work together with one another is merely priceless.
10. Acknowlege baby steps. Every kid is different. Every kid learns in different ways. Just as the shape of the gold formation is never the same, neither are our students. When a student who normally turns in nothing, takes the opportunity to give you make up work, acknowledge the baby step. They are the progress more than their past. Growth is our aim. Celebrate successes, even the smallest and most insignificant. Are the kids mastering the standards but didn't the first time? Account for that in your grading. If they have mastered it after a while, they have still mastered it.
You guys are amazing. You are on the front lines of this mining process every.single.day, and we feel so inspired by your work. When all is said and done, the world offers layers us with grit and grime, day after day, and our students even more so. We cannot change the circumstances, and our job is not easy. BUT, we are not hopeless. In those moments when we feel like giving up we must believe that there is gold there underneath and that we have been placed here to make a difference and find it for ourselves, find the gold for the students. And even if a students' senior teacher is the one who finally seeks the peek of gold from beneath all of the many layers we have worked to find, KNOW that you have all worked together to find that little peek. Because it may be that that one sliver shines so much more brilliantly to us than a thousand pieces of perfectly sculptured gold we have never had to work for.
Thank you for all you do, and remember...CARPE AURUM!
*Thank you to Ms. Mixon for confirming the Latin. The title was a 5 a.m. Dr. Google find, but I did confirm with our Bulldog Expert.