I’m pretty sure I can speak for all of us when I say 2020 has been ROUGH. But, hidden within the destruction, Covid, and injustices, are glimmers of hope. A greater, international consciousness of racism and a strong desire to educate ourselves. Police reform and increased funding for social programs across the country. A Supreme Court vote that finally protects gay and transgender individuals from discrimination in the workplace. And of course, alongside the social distancing, a sense of unity, and a sense of being in this all together.
As we go into this next school year, I’m set on capturing that glimmer and teaching hope, and I hope you are, too! While I’ve never started the school year in a pandemic, I have guided students through school buildings being condemned, water being shut-off, and through the process of adjusting to school in the United States. So without further ado, here’s a few of the tried-and-true ways I’m teaching hope this year!
Once I was at a conference where the presenter said that students should not know any of our troubles. “They have enough to worry about themselves,” she said. “Why should we burden students with our troubles if they are worried about the safety of their family?” I sat with that for a while, trying to figure out how that could happen in my classroom. Was I a terrible teacher for sharing my life, my challenges, and my struggles with my class? But then, I thought back to my first years teaching, where I didn’t share as much with my students. The students were less likely to share with me. They felt I had it all together (not true!), and who wants to share your hardest moments with someone who has it all together? Not me!
Now, I’m not advocating for using your students as a counseling session. They don’t need that kind of stress. What they do need is to see that everyone has challenges, and they are not alone in dealing with them. Having a trusted adult share what they’re going through does wonders! Students empathize, see they are not alone, and are willing to share themselves. When everyone’s sharing, that means there’s space for empathy, problem solving, and inspiration.
We have a morning meeting every day, and everyone is able to share challenges they would like help solving. We listen, we give advice, and most importantly, we insist on follow-ups! Students and I share what advice was helpful, how the situation resolved itself, and how they feel now that they’ve gotten through it. Seeing that peers and trusted adults can overcome challenges and that they’re capable of giving helpful advice? That’s hope right there.
We set goals for EVERYTHING in my classroom. From class averages on math tests to words read per minute to how long it takes to get out a notebook and pencil, we are always setting goals and comparing ourselves to them. All around my classroom you’ll find little signs of progress we’re making towards our goals.
When we start to make goals, I know where we want to be by the end of the year. But my students? Not yet. We start out by taking just one step. 2 points higher on the math test. Half a second faster getting out our notebooks. At the beginning of the year, these goals are SO attainable. Almost embarrassingly so! The thing is, every year I have students that think it’s too much. They don’t think they can improve even one point, let alone two, but as soon as we reach that one goal, there’s no stopping them. We celebrate every little thing in a BIG way! We cheer, we earn rewards, we compliment each other, and just all around make a HUGE deal out of every little goal we reach. Then they want more, they want harder goals, and they won’t stop working to get them. Sometimes, like this past year, we blow our goals out of the water.
Note, this sign is nothing fancy. We threw it together in the middle of class one day, and it stayed that way for the rest of the year. This picture was taken in JANUARY. In August, our average score was a 45%. By November, it was 77%. My goal for the year was an 80% average by MAY. When kids have concrete evidence that they’re making strides, there’s no telling how far they’ll go.
From the first day of school, I start telling students that they’re in my class for a reason, and that reason is that they’re destined to learn and do great things. Now, I let them decide for themselves the reason. Some think the universe conspired to put them in my class, some think the principal decided they were special, some think they were hand picked by me. In reality, with a few exceptions, it was random that they ended up in my classroom. They don’t need to know that, though! We talk every day about how our class is going to learn more than they ever thought, how they’re going to surprise themselves and their families. We have conversations about how a strong education is the best foundation for becoming a world changer, and how they’re clearly going to be world changers since they’re in this classroom working so hard and learning so much. Later in the year, we’ll have conversations of equity and education, and how we’re out to challenge the status quo. We have conversations about how test scores tend to go in communities like ours, and how we’re going to prove everybody’s assumptions wrong. When we ease into these conversations about proving everybody wrong, kids get FIRED UP. I mean, who doesn’t want to stick it to the man? Then, we put it into action. Kids are expected to meet grade level standards, and we celebrate each step of the way.
When I first started having these talks with my students, I did not believe one word coming out of my mouth. I had (and sometimes still have!) imposter syndrome to the max, and I worried about the poor souls that were assigned to my room. However, something interesting happened. As we talked about these big topics of educational inequity and proving everybody wrong, my kids were more engaged, more determined, and more willing to take on challenges. They started making incredible progress, and I started feeling like maybe they were going to be ok after all. Before I knew it, my kids were blowing past the district averages and making years worth of growth in reading and math.
They gave me hope!
What do you do to teach hope in your classroom?
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