I am very lucky. I love what I do for a living. Actually I never thought I would love it as much as I do and some days are better than others but on the whole I count myself among the fortunate to find joy and fulfillment in my job. I am an elementary school teacher. I currently teach highly capable third and fourth graders, or what some call “gifted” students. I spend my days listening, teaching, learning and discovering new ways to ignite the spark of curiosity and the love of learning, in young minds. The particular group of little people I get to spend my days with are unique thinkers, they are typically more out of the box processors and determined truth seekers. They are little humans with big ideas and VERY different ways of explaining or figuring things out. These kiddos keep me on my toes for sure. They work hard, they get frustrated, they cry, they deep breath, they push and they explore. They are quirky and different and I love teaching them.
This group of kids that I teach, the one that is highly capable, tends to be really hard on themselves. They tend to have an internal pressure sensor to do well at first attempt and have a skewed idea that if they make a mistake it means they are a failure. They tend to be hyper-focused and desire to work individually, collaboration is not their idea of a good thing. These students, when in a regular classroom, are usually the ones who understand concepts and finish work quickly. These are the kids that yearn for more challenge not just another worksheet to pass time. They arrive at answers or solutions in a way maybe you haven’t even seen before and although it may take them some time to explain it to you, they get the answer nonetheless. This student, when not challenged in the right way or at a deeper level, can find themselves distracted or distracting others, which at times can lead to troubles while trying to occupy themselves, waiting… BUT once they land in my classroom the playing field is leveled, the waiting is over.
All the kids in my classroom have some gifted-ness and therefore no one student is “the-anything” anymore; the “best”, the “smartest”, the “fastest” or has it the “easiest”,etc., they simply are learners in a community of learners. This leveling out can often be difficult at first, I ask parents to give me a month… to trust me, trust the process and thankfully they do. It begins, these students are finally challenged in a way they have not been before. In those first 30 days, tears are usually more frequent, frustration is palpable and the big-deer-caught-in-the-headlight look is often seen. But after that something magical happens. The fog lifts, the pressure releases. These kids find that they are lifting each other up, encouraging one another to try and try again, they work hard to not be so critical and they realize they have found their peeps.
You see the biggest challenge for these kiddos is their ability to develop a “highly capable” social and emotional acuity. Typically they are the kids that when in a regular classroom might feel a bit different, odd, or left out. Much of this is because they simply do not think the same way other kids think. They are an outlier… but once they end up in my class, they are with all the other outliers, their peeps! It is amazing to watch, year after year this is the truth, they come from all over our district and finally feel like part of a group, a community, a class of learners all working hard and being challenged. We begin to develop a kind of family. We rely on each other, trust, find support and comfort in the safe environment we create together.
(Student Work- A Kind Notes for Foster Children)
These kids are fascinating, powerful, creative little humans and they are only 8, 9, and 10! I am so grateful I get to spend two years with my kiddos, this enables me to support depth of knowledge, stretch their brains further, help develop a more socially and emotionally well rounded student. They are our future, as corny as that may sound, and I hope that above being intelligent they are kind human beings.
The social and emotional piece is huge in my classroom, H-U-G-E! This type of learner often feels a intense sense of righteousness and injustice. They are often very black and white and are challenged when having gauge other people’s emotions or feel empathy. Because of this my teaching partner and I have intentionally developed and continue to create opportunities to strengthen social and emotional IQ. (Side note: I have an amazing teaching partner that is happy to take on my ideas just as much as I take on hers. We work extremely well together and I am so grateful for her. I recommend teaching partners for everyone, someone you can trust and be open and honest with that holds a mirror up for you and is the yin to your yang for teaching. This is a true gift!) We have three rules in our classroom that house all our expectations: show respect, make good decisions,and solve problems. Under these three simple expectations we are able to support the growth of our community in a respectful way while engaging students in the development of autonomy. This also enable us to continually work hard on social-emotional IQ throughout our day, all day, every day!
We have a letter writing campaign where students write kind letters to a different peer in our classrooms each week. Each student anonymously looks for things throughout the week to write about, acts of kindness that they see the person they are writing to. When the letters come the readers are just as inspired as the writers. This is a heart-warming moment in our class, the kind words that are shared between students is beautiful; joy becomes palpable, trust is gained. This time becomes an invitation to be more kind.
(Student Work- Kind Note For Foster Children)
We sing songs about kindness and being part of a community making this world better. We read and collect inspirational quotes to share with the group. We set time aside each day to celebrate acts of kindness in our community where students use the sentence frame, “I would like to thank _____ for their kindness when…”, to nominate others for their acts of kindness throughout the day. We fill a basket with these nominations and celebrate with a Kindness Party (A.K.A. popcorn party) every time the basket is full. We also use this as a teaching tool, emptying some of the basket when something really hard, or unkind happens. The power of this act is intense, silent… palpable. The discussion that follows is how one unkind act can reach our whole community, how we are better when we lift each other up instead of tear one another down, how when we show up for one another we are ALL better! The community that we have established is safe, powerful, and forgiving and when something unkind happens in our community it affects us all.
(Student Work- A Kind Notes for Foster Children)
We celebrate kindness outside our classroom, too. We perform all-school/community plays about improving our life through small kind, thoughtful acts. We fund-raise each year for a local and global social justice efforts. We invite families to a shared meal, at the beginning of the year, to help foster community for the parents of these students. The idea to kindle and stoke the fire of kindness is ever present and is what I am most grateful in my job.
Test scores and data, standards and curriculum, memorization and fact fluency are all important but let me be clear… these are not the things that will take our kids safely into the future. Kindness, gratitude, empathy, love, support, and recognizing that we are better together is the most important lesson I can teach. I do hope I live up to these expectations, I am so grateful for the opportunity to try.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all!