As a lot of you know, this fall I will be a veteran newbie at a different elementary school. The change brings up a lot of emotion- excitement, fear, nervousness, the longing for my friends that became family at Chesterbrook, etc.. Honestly, one of the things that makes me least nervous is the actual curriculum. Even though I'm switching back to 4th grade from six years in 6th grade, I know that the curriculum is manageable if I put forth the proper effort. The part that keeps me up at night the most with the change, though, is the new building of relationships - with students, with families, and with co-workers.
Recently, my new principal sent out our first staff update for the school year. In addition to keeping up with the school-wide initiative of #kgpride (used whenever we're proud of something at Kent Gardens), she also shared a school-wide mantra that we're going to incorporate at every level of the school this year: Putting Kindness First. You all can imagine the feeling that I experienced when I read this......my heart practically leaped out of my chest with happiness! You only have to take one look at the name of my blog to realize that the learning of facts will always come after we establish a classroom culture of being nice and working hard. While there is a very natural nervous feeling that will no doubt linger for these first couple of weeks of school, I'm also feeling an immense sense of excitement knowing that our school is on such a wonderful mission together of putting kindness first.
Yesterday I was at an all-day in-service. While it was a long day, it was one of those experiences that you walk out of feeling so motivated and ready to jump into the school year. The speakers were truly amazing and reinvigorated my energy and love of learning as well as teaching. At one of the breakout sessions, we were asked to recall a time that a teacher put us down as a student. I didn't even have to think about it for more than a second because the experience still lingers so close to my heart. It was my 11th grade English class with Mr. Munaker. Munaker never had a very gentle disposition and unless you loved UofMD sports, there wasn't much to connect with him about. At one point in the year we wrote a paper about Huckleberry Finn and when I got mine back, I was humiliated. In large letters on every single page (in red pen, no less) he had written, "WHAT?". Of course, on the front page there was a C or a D also glaring me at me. While Mr. Munaker was a perfectly fine person, this teaching technique was so, so hurtful. There was no offer of help, no offer of re-writing the paper, no guidance on how to become a better writer overall. Just the "WHAT?" that is forever ingrained in my mind. As hurtful as the experience was, I knew that I was not defined by a single paper, a single teacher, or a single experience in a class. I went on to be an English major at UVA, where I had professors who guided and nurtured me in the way that every student deserves to be looked after. I remember each of them so vividly and am forever grateful for my experiences in their classes. I'll never, ever forget the time during my first year when I wrote an essay on Wordsworth's 'I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud' and sent it to my dad. I was sitting in my dorm room when I read his reply that was just beaming with happiness and pride. Was it the best essay I would come to write? Of course not, but both of us knew that it was a truly pivotal moment for me in more than one way.
Finally, I want to share an article that I read this morning: When Success Leads to Failure. I HIGHLY recommend taking the time to read the piece and I'm most definitely ordering Lahey's book. Here are some passages that stuck out to me:
"Marianna’s parents, her teachers, society at large—we are all implicated in this crime against learning. From her first day of school, we pointed her toward that altar and trained her to measure her progress by means of points, scores, and awards. We taught Marianna that her potential is tied to her intellect, and that her intellect is more important than her character. We taught her to come home proudly bearing As, championship trophies, and college acceptances, and we inadvertently taught her that we don’t really care how she obtains them. We taught her to protect her academic and extracurricular perfection at all costs and that it’s better to quit when things get challenging rather than risk marring that perfect record. Above all else, we taught her to fear failure. That fear is what has destroyed her love of learning."
"I know this mom because she’s just like me. And telling her the truth is hard both because I’m afraid she’ll get defensive and angry, and because it means I have to cop to all the same mistakes in my own parenting. Maybe it’s time to share some truths with her as I figure out where I went astray, and together we can help our kids rediscover their intellectual bravery, their enthusiasm for learning, and the resilience they need in order to grow into independent, competent adults. With a little luck, they will look back on their childhood and thank us; not just for our unwavering love, but for our willingness to put their long-term developmental and emotional needs before their short-term happiness. For our willingness to let their lives be just a little bit harder today so they will know how to face hardship tomorrow."
While the experience in Mr. Munaker's English 11 class was a tough one and certainly one that I don't want to repeat for any of my own students, my failures in that class did light a fire within me. I think failure can come with a lot less detriment than my own experience in that class (one of many experiences in failure for me!), but it is truly an imperative part of growing up and becoming a life-long learner.
To my incoming fourth graders, I cannot wait to meet you! We're going to have an incredible year, during which we put kindness first and learn some amazing lessons- both academic and life lessons- along the way. #kgpride