Project Learning Tree Workshop

I talk a big game when it comes to being environmentally conscious, but to be honest, there’s a lot of things I can do better. I could drive less (some of the places I drive to are an easy bus ride…or even walk…away), I could be more careful about buying locally grown produce, I could buy less STUFF (read: SHOES AND CLOTHES). But then I tell myself, ” It’s cool. I recycle. I compost. I take my reusable bag to the grocery store. At least I recognize climate change is a reality.”

This comes to a head when I think about how to incorporate environmental education into a classroom’s science curriculum, and nothing was more powerful today during our Project Learning Tree workshop than the following idea: The basis, or “bottom of the pyramid” of environmental education should be in nurturing children’s emotional connections to the environment. This is what leads to the action part of environmental stewardship, not haranguing them about what they and their families are doing wrong and hoping the guilt will change behavior.

What makes the above statement so powerful is the universal truth of it; when have people ever changed their behavior simply out of guilt? Simply because someone told them it was the right thing to do? I wonder what future generations’ treatment of our natural world and the life that surrounds us could look like, if we started with the bottom of the pyramid, nurtured and stoked children’s curiosity about the environment, if we showed them how it can be appreciated, if we exposed them to the beauty of that part of our world.

I’m excited that the rest of the workshop was then centered around explicit objectives and lessons that we could use with our future students, and I already know I’ll be using the Activities book this year in my work with urban youth in an after-school program.

First Week Back

The first week back at my main placement since the break was just…perfect. Perfectly chaotic, perfectly loud (I don’t know that the kindergarteners understand the difference between a Level 1 voice and a Level 4 voice), perfectly hug-filled, and perfectly educational–for me.

I didn’t do a lot in the instruction way, but I did get to do a lot of the day-to-day task stuff like picking up the kids from recess and specialists leading some of the daily routines. I observed a lot of writing and math and even some science, with the kids studying the three main different types of clouds integrated with art (pictures to come!) My favorite writing activity was definitely the shared writing of a letter to the Seahawks. The Morning Meeting almost always involves some kind of shared writing, most recently with letters. My CT models what a letter looks like with the date and the salutation, then the students dictate what will be in the letter, offering up ideas about what should be said. When one of the students said, “We liked the game against the 49ers,” another child said, “No, they’re not the 49ers, they’re the forty-WHINERS.” My blue and green heart just about exploded with love…and laughter. After finishing the letter, they all signed and my CT mailed it off the Seahawks. It would be exciting if they responded, but we aren’t expecting it.

It was cool to see this kind of shared writing activity, especially after reading so much of Routman, and what she says about modeling writing and having shared writing activities that allow for modeling and make writing engaging and for an authentic purpose.

It’s likely that my future students will be writing lots of letters to the Seahawks…

I’m the Meanest Lady You Know

It had been a long, tiring day, and I was finally cleaning up, getting ready to head home to do…homework. The kids had been exceptionally loud, ignoring me and all the other tutors (who, to be honest, usually leave it to me to be “bad cop,” and who can blame them) and directions to settle down, stop hitting each other, stop with the paper airplanes, don’t leave until your parents have signed you out, we don’t use those words, etc. etc. I was at the end of my wits, asking myself “Why won’t they listen to me? What am I doing wrong?!” as I’m hurriedly putting materials away, nudging children out the door, reminding them they need to be signed in and out by a parent or guardians. And then this kid, this kid who has left me physically and mentally exhausted every session, this kid who tells me I make too many rules, says to me:

“You’re the meanest lady I know.”

There was no venom, no hatred or angry tone behind the words…just a cool, observable fact. As soon as he’d said it, though, I could see in his face that he knew he’d crossed an invisible line, that maybe it was mean. But it was said and he couldn’t take it back.

I didn’t really know what to say in response, but my pride took over and I simply said, “Well, thank you, Raymond,” (not his real name) and went about finishing my job.

I didn’t know, and I honestly still don’t know, what the best response would have been. Should I have been stern and firmly told him that was rude and he shouldn’t speak to people that way? Should I have told him it hurt my feelings (which it did)? Should I have scolded him and reminded him that I’m the adult and he just can’t talk to me that way? I just don’t know that any of those responses would have been better than mine.

But I’ve been thinking about this event a lot, about how I could have reacted and turned into a teaching/learning moment (for both of us), about how this will affect the way I interact this child from here on out. And it was this event that sprung into my mind immediately when reading about “gritty love” and the role love plays in the teaching profession in John Spencer’s A Sustainable Start.

Grit means to keep on keepin’ on, it means having tenacity and the refusal to let barriers ruin you. So to me, Spencer’s idea of “gritty love” means loving when it’s easier not to, loving even when there’s no reward, loving even when your love is handed back to you, loving especially those who make it hard for you to love them.

Raymond makes it hard for me to love him. He still doesn’t follow my directions, he still actively ignores me when I try to redirect him towards a more productive task than using the straws I’d intended for a bride-building activity as spitball weapons. I still tell him to follow directions, to listen to his tutors, to not stand on the furniture, to read to himself  or read a book to one of the younger kids, to put the candy away because it’s a distraction. I’m pretty sure all this still makes me the meanest lady he knows.

My dad tells me this is “a compliment.” My readings and my peers tell me it’s good to have structure and high expectations and to keep them consistent and that after a while he’ll appreciate these things and he only said what he said because he knows it’s safe for him to do so. I think it’s that last part I want him to know the most. That I’m the meanest lady he knows because I care about his mind and his safety and it’s more important for him to succeed than to like me. Little does he know that he’s giving me a lot of practice in gritty love.

Have you ever worked with a student who seems to make every attempt to test your patience? How have you responded, and did it ever change?

New Year, New Blogs

Now that I’ve been blogging for a while, I think it’s time that I really make this a place (blog) I can settle down in, somewhere I see myself living (blogging) in the future. And I’ve thought of some ways that I can do that this quarter:

1. Make connections with other bloggers. One of the things I reflected on last quarter with my blogging was that it’s a lot like networking. You’re trying to reach an audience with your thoughts and ideas, and you in turn be an audience for others. I’ve been reading A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown and it’s brought up for me exciting new ways to think about blogging–it’s a collective enterprise, where my words can be pushed back on, pulled apart by, or held up, by other bloggers, and I in turn do the same to their words. And these blogs are constantly changing, being affected by the bloggers who confront us with new or different or exciting ideas and question us, forcing us to answer. This quarter, I want to make a more concerted effort to be a vocal part of this collective by commenting on blogs and inviting them to answer my questions, or read something I may have written that addresses a similar idea they have brought up. In this way, I can build a readership that will, hopefully, push me to diversity my repertoire of writing topics.

2. Reference learning that broadens ideas of schooling and education. The blog I’ve enjoyed reading most these last couple of months comes from Jose Vilson, who I think does this really, really well. He, like myself, is a huge fan of hip-hop and I love seeing the references he makes to artists and songs, as well as the full-out posts he makes in regards to the ways hip-hop music can be connected to schooling and education, like this post about Kendrick Lamar, generational differences, the dilemma that exists between listening to “positive” or “negative” hip-hop, and how this dilemma does and could play out between a younger generation and the adults in their lives (ie, teachers). I find it refreshing that he takes a genre of music that is pervasive, a huge part of my life and certainly a huge part of our students’ lives, and connects the two cultures of hip-hop and education, making clear that education can come from hip-hop. Although maybe not with hip-hop, I would like to try doing something similar. We tell ourselves and our students that we are all always learning; I want that to show in my weekly reflections via this blog so that I give myself a chance to make those connections between what I see in the world and culture I live in, and the schooling and education I take part in.

3. Be more selfish. Write for me. I recently watched a documentary that followed several wounded combat veterans who wanted to be stand-up comedians. Each was being “mentored” by established comics. One of them, in an interview, said something along the lines of, “Write what you think is funny. Tell the jokes you think are funny, that you like. If you like them, if you think they’re funny, then the audience probably will to.” I think he said it much more eloquently and convincing than that, but as I sat down to write this post, it rose up in my memory as something I should bring to my blogging. Not my jokes, of course (maybe a little bit), but my voice, my true interests and passions within education, and what’s really on my mind as a future educator. I think the point the comedian was trying to make was that if you are proud of your material, it’s likely for good reason and the audience will enjoy it. So instead of trying too hard to be worth reading, I want to focus more on writing what is worth spending my time writing. Which sounds kind of like a selfish endeavor, but I do think that if it’s interesting to me, then it’ll be interesting to my audience.