It's been a bit of a whirlwind since we returned to school after winter break. I thoroughly enjoyed my downtime but once January 7 hit, it was immediately hitting the ground running with tons to do. It can be overwhelming. I have continued my practice of daily reflection and meditation [Pssst...check out my review of the Intentional Educator Reflection Journal], but things can still get overwhelming sometimes. Then something happens and when you reflect on it, it makes you realize that you are on the path you are meant to be on.
Earlier this week we had a Student Success Team Meeting (you might know it as Child Study). This is basically a time when teachers can bring forward students who they have concerns with, either academically or behaviorally or both, and the school team meets and determines some interventions to try. Then we meet periodically again to see if there are improvements or adjustments need to be made. Sometimes this results in a student being tested for special education services but it doesn't always need to go that far.
Early in the year this particular student of mine was on the list from last year. I was actually pretty surprised because he is a delightful little boy who really seemed to like school. [He had been brought up by his 2nd grade teacher; no concerns noted in 1st grade or kindergarten.] Through the course of the meeting and looking through the notes on his file, I saw some things that really surprised me. We had a meeting in October and I was really surprised hearing from mom and dad (whom I had met and really connected with previously in the year) about what had occurred the previous year. Truly this was not a child I would have ever brought forward for SST if he hadn't already been on the list.
Both of his parents came to the meeting this week and they both praised me for the "positive influence" I have had on their son. To the point that I actually teared up a bit. I pointed out that I am tough on the kids because I can see their future in a way they cannot when they are that young, but the difference I think for me is that I'm a tough love kind of teacher. Yes, I'll push them to be the best and go farther than they ever have, but they also know I am tough on them because I genuinely love them and care about their future.
When I went back to my classroom that afternoon, I thought about that conversation a lot. I reflected a ton on what I'm doing RIGHT with that student and how I can ensure I continue to do so. This child's confidence has grown ten-fold in the short amount of time he has been in my class. I thought about WHY. Of course, I could be ridiculous and say "it's all because of me because I'm the best teacher ever!" but that would not be the truth.
There are plenty of people better than me. Always have been and there always will be. I have my flaws. BUT what I am in genuine. My classroom is a safe place for everyone - including me - to be vulnerable and to grow. The students know this because we talk about it. We talk about it a lot. I often use myself as an example during morning meeting with mistakes I have made (obviously kid-friendly and appropriate) as they relate to our topic. I have also implemented the Gratitude Circle at the end of our day and it has been wonderful to see my students all appreciate and love on each other and the good things happening in our school. It's also been really amazing to see how their gratitudes have changed over the first semester - generally they were all pretty superficial in the beginning (thankful for having a specials class that day or some other special event), but now that the comfort is there and the safety is there, they are going deep. Someone will share that they are thankful for [name] because they helped them when they fell down or invited them to join a recess activity when they saw the other person was alone or how grateful they are for the learning they got to do that day [that one might be my favorite because they are genuine, not putting on a show]. A few of the 3rd grade girls have taken to saying how much they appreciate me and/or my intern because of the work we do so the they can learn.
As I reflect and think about the positive culture I have tried to instill in my classroom, I can't help but wonder if this positive time that is deliberately built into my day is a reason why my students are feeling confident and safe enough to share. Let it be known that I am not trying to say I am the only teacher in my school who does positive things with their students; what I am saying is, I think my personality and goofiness and our mutual respect we have built amongst us all has contributed to the culture we share.
In this moment, I am glad I am someone who truly knows how to be reflective because reflecting on this situation with this particular student has led to me reflecting on the culture I've built in my classroom this year which has led me to think about how I can continue to cultivate this and bring it to an even better place the rest of the year and into my future classrooms.
There is power in reflection and being willing to be honest and vulnerable about why something is working or why it isn't. Fortunately in this case, it is working and working well...but if it wasn't, it would be time to stop and think about why. What behaviors am *I* contributing that are hindering where we want to go. Because regardless of what you think, your behavior as the leader of the classroom absolutely impacts everything the kids do.