Gentleness and kind persuasion win; where force and bluster fail.

Growing up I had a large anthology of Aesop’s Fables. I had read it so much I still have several memorized: The Goose and the Golden Egg, The Eagle and the Beetle, the wolf in sheep’s clothing, and The Fox and the Stork.

One of my favorites is The North Wind and The Sun. Let’s read it together!

The North Wind and the Sun had a quarrel about which of them was the stronger. While they were disputing with much heat and bluster, a Traveler passed along the road wrapped in a cloak.

“Let us agree,” said the Sun, “that he is the stronger who can strip that Traveler of his cloak.”

“Very well,” growled the North Wind, and at once sent a cold, howling blast against the Traveler.

WIND_AESOP

With the first gust of wind the ends of the cloak whipped about the Traveler’s body. But he immediately wrapped it closely around him, and the harder the Wind blew, the tighter he held it to him. The North Wind tore angrily at the cloak, but all his efforts were in vain.

Then the Sun began to shine. At first his beams were gentle, and in the pleasant warmth after the bitter cold of the North Wind, the Traveler unfastened his cloak and let it hang loosely from his shoulders. The Sun’s rays grew warmer and warmer. The man took off his cap and mopped his brow. At last he became so heated that he pulled off his cloak, and, to escape the blazing sunshine, threw himself down in the welcome shade of a tree by the roadside.

SUN_AESOP

Gentleness and kind persuasion win where force and bluster fail.

(Aesop for Children (translator not identified), 1919. Illustrations by Milo Winter (1886-1956). Available online at Project Gutenberg.)

I’ve belonged to many organizations in college and in my career and I have seen similarities with how people want to accomplish goals. I notice there are people who are The North Wind, and those who are The Sun. It’s so easy to have a goal and want to get it with no holds barred. A lot of people I have worked with were so hung up on their goal that they became angry and bitter when they didn’t accomplish it. They didn’t succeed. And I had to make the choice to stop listening to them. Because while they had good intentions, they let anger set in, and couldn’t face the facts and see that their focus was damaging the very thing they set out to do.
Like the North Wind, who wanted so badly for the traveler to remove his cloak, he was hyper-focused so much on himself he couldn’t see his actions were having the opposite effect.

I am thankful to have worked with people who are like the Sun. They have a goal in mind, but instead of force, they use persuasion and persistence to get the job accomplished. Does it happen immediately? No. In the fable, The Sun shines for a while before the traveler takes off his cloak. At first the cloak was lowered, then he mopped his brow, and finally, he took off his cloak. The Sun was persistent. He knew that as long as he kept shining at a steady rate, the traveler would take off his cloak.

Another difference between The North Wind and The Sun is perspective. The North Wind was focused only on the traveler. The Sun, however, was focused on the larger picture. He didn’t focus on the traveler. He knew that by warming everything around the traveler (including the traveler), the effect would result in the traveler removing his cloak. He had his eyes set on something larger.

We all have been the North Wind at some point, and we all have been The Sun.

What I hope is that whenever we are fighting for a cause, raising awareness, or simply working on a project; that we will focus on having our goal in mind, but instead of becoming hyper-focused and possibly becoming angry, that we will have persistence, gentleness, and persuasion, and a broader view of what is happening to accomplish what we set out to do. This might be misinterpreted as saying you can’t be mad or even angry about something, particularly an injustice. That is not the intention here. Anger is a natural emotion, but acting on it can wreak havoc. Check out this article on what happens to your body when you become angry: http://tvblogs.nationalgeographic.com/2014/08/15/10-facts-about-how-our-brain-gets-angry/

Taking a moment to breathe and calm down is essential because it allows for logic and reasoning and clear thinking to set in.

My hope is that whenever we come across a problem or situation that we will be The Sun, and act in kind persuasion and gentleness, and logic and reasoning. If we do that, we can accomplish what we put on our minds and hearts.

I can’t give teaching my all

Yesterday my friend Ben got married, it was a wonderful ceremony and reception. As Ben and his wife were making their rounds of thank yous, I got to chat with Ben for a while. We talked about our experience working in hospitality together and I had asked if he ever thought about going back to which he responded “no way!”  We both agreed the industry is brutal and you can really work yourself to death. Which was meant as a joke but we remembered that actually happened to my boss, Jade. She worked herself to death.

Ben and I worked together at a hotel in Albuquerque many years ago. He worked the front desk and I worked in housekeeping, cleaning the public areas of the hotel; we both worked the evening shift. While I enjoyed working with Ben and others at my hotel, the hospitality industry is brutal. Late nights, extreme physical labor, violent guests, minimal pay. The list goes on and on. Jade, my boss, was a woman who was a perfectionist, which is a good trait to have when you are housekeeping supervisor. It may seem that housekeepers only clean rooms, but that work is exhausting. Every room must meet certain standards, and making 10 beds a day is no easy feat. Whenever you stay in a hotel, please leave a tip and a note that says how well the room was made up, because it means a lot to the housekeepers. At our hotel we would hang up all the notes on our bulletin board, it made our jobs a little easier.

Jade was proud of the work she did and how well the hotel was cleaned. She would often stay late doing more chores, or come in early, and overwork herself. During October she came in when she was sick and we all told her to go home and rest, she of course didn’t listen. One day in January Jade was sick again with bronchitis and kept coming in to work. I got a text on my day off saying that Jade didn’t report for work in the morning, and they went to her apartment and found her body. It was later revealed that she had died because of complications with her bronchitis. She had given work her all, and she had literally worked herself to death.

Going back to work was the hardest thing I had to do. Walking into our housekeeping office and truly feeling an absence is a feeling that can only be described as intense and powerful.

After her death I left the hotel because I was beginning to student teach and finish my degree. Her death stayed with me a long time and I came up with three things I learned from her dying: (copied from a post on a different social media platform)

The first is that death does not wait for anything. It can come at any time, place, age, and certainly not when expected, despite our human efforts, we can not control this great force. The second is that because of this, we need to take time to enjoy everything we have in this life (which sounds cliché) but our lives are far too short not to express daily gratitude for everything we have. The third is that we need to take care of ourselves in all aspects, because we deserve the best that life has to offer.

I need to expand on that third point. We as teachers have got to take care of ourselves. I recently received a hilarious shirt from my friend and it says “Everything hurts, and I’m dying, but writing sub plans is worse!” That shirt is tongue-in-cheek humor that teachers would rather work when sick that create sub plans. It is a sad truth. I have worked many times when I should have stayed home. But it is more than working while sick. It is those extra nights where we stay “just a few more minutes.” Taking on extra school projects, more mandates from the state or district, working at home or on the weekends, or being bombarded with ridiculous deadlines. The list could go on.

Teachers are some of the hardest working people in our society, we work well beyond our contracts, it has almost become a societal norm to go beyond what is expected. But where do we draw the line between hard work and over working ourselves? For Jade, who gave her all to the hotel, crossed that line at a point of no return.

I am making a renewed commitment to myself this year that I can’t give teaching my all. I love this job, but it is not worth my life. I am renewing myself to be a passionate and healthy teacher, to create a better balance of life and work. I think we often forget, but teaching is a job. It may be our life calling, but at the end of the day it is work, and we have to create that balance. As a teacher, I often refer to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs so I can help my students achieve self-actualization through means of supporting their other needs (physiological, safety, love, etc)**. But the reality is I don’t check Maslow’s for myself, and I doubt other teachers do too. That is something that I need to change this year. If I want to be the best teacher for my students, I need to make sure my own basic needs are met too.

As we wind down summer and begin to get ready for the fall; make a renewed commitment to yourself to love teaching and your students, and to love and take care of yourself. Make a commitment to stay a little less late at school, block off times for yourself (or family/partner), when you are sick stay home. Take care of yourself, so you can take care of others. Do this for yourself, do this for Jade.

Here are some resources to help create a balance:

http://www.naeyc.org/tyc/article/taking-care-of-yourself

https://www.edutopia.org/discussion/7-self-care-strategies-teachers

http://www.mindfulteachers.org/p/self-care-resources.html

https://www.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/upm-binaries/7273_burke_ch_1.pdf

https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2014/nov/20/tips-teachers-happy-healthy-week

https://topnotchteaching.com/reflective-teaching/teacher-well-being/

** To see how you can use Maslow’s in your classroom, see these links:

http://www.changekidslives.org/actions-4/

https://www.edutopia.org/blog/addressing-our-needs-maslow-hierarchy-lori-desautels

 

Sometimes we don’t see the fruits of our labor

In our perfect utopia classrooms all students are learning, making great progress, and there are no behavior issues! Anything that comes up in the classroom we take care of it and it never re-occurs.

The reality of teaching, of course, is far from this idea, but we as teachers should still strive to give our students the best even if we don’t see the benefits and fruits of our labor at the moment.

Last year I had a student who I would say was a difficult student. Each week there was a different battle to fight, but I never stop giving up on this child. They needed love and care and support to become a better person, and even though each day I hoped they would come back and be a changed person that never happened in my year with them. But I didn’t give up.

Fast forward a year, I found a note written by them telling me how much I meant to them and how much they enjoyed their year in my classroom. I shared this with their parent and they wrote me back saying how much better their child is doing because of how much I helped them last year, and their child has really turned a new page in life. I see this child on campus, and they are a different person. The hardships of last year were worth it because I know that student is on the path to success.

I am learning that sometimes, we won’t see the fruits of our labor. And even so, I will continue to plant seeds that I know will grow in these students so they will become successful individuals, ready for anything.

40 days, and the freedom to be an imperfect teacher.

Spring break ends tonight, and tomorrow marks the 40 school days countdown to summer break. Hallelujah! This year for me has been the most challenging, and at times I truly wanted to quit. It felt like the odds were stacked against me, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t ready for this year to be over.

This year, I had high expectations for the year, I was going to try a classroom completely built on respect and caring, where learning was the center, not behavior. So I threw out my ideas of rewards/non-logical consequences. I was also excited for some new curriculum and a new whole-school management program.

My optimism and enthusiasm for the year popped like a balloon barely through the first part of the year. It seemed everything to be hitting me at once, escalated/violent behaviors in the classroom, new curriculum that was harder to teach than I anticipated, not everyone being on board with our new management program. It all came down and I was ready to throw in my hat. The behaviors in my classroom specifically were incredibly hard to deal with, and it was overwhelming. I never thought I would have the thoughts of quitting over behavior, but those thoughts were real. I was unhappy with how things were going in my classroom, I wasn’t being the perfect teacher.

I finally realized I am not a perfect teacher, and I will never be. But I won’t stop trying, and I didn’t stop trying this year. I tell my students that I am still learning too, “I get many years in third grade, but you only get one, so I want to make it the best.”

There were good and bad times in my classroom this year that I will tell you about because being honest is important:

  • I took away recess for non-recess related things
  • I took up small, petty arguments with students about the most ridiculous things [then realized I wasted 5 minutes of my life arguing over a pencil]
  • I yelled
  • I did not model respect

There are other examples, and it hurts to remember the times above. I am writing this because I need to emphasize the point that I am not perfect, and I still have a long way to go. Should have I taken away those few minutes from that child’s recess? No. Should I have stopped to think first? Yes. Should I have done any of the above? No. So why did I do it? Because I am an imperfect teacher, and I am still learning how to become a better one.

But this year also gave me something else. As mentioned, I decided to give up on what can be referred to as “traditional classroom management” which includes clip charts/behavior apps/rewards, etc. And it was the best decision I have ever made. My classroom is a classroom that thrives off respect/care/community.

Let me highlight some positives that happened this year because of that decision. Among the biggest, I was able to address roots of larger problems and solve them accordingly. [Also, in order to protect student privacy, names/identification are omitted].

  • I have become a happier teacher, I am able to laugh, smile, and joke with my students
  • I am able to see them for who they are, a human, with real emotions and feelings, and not a clip with a name on the chart performing at “green.”
  • My students are free to be themselves
  • We have been able to solve problems as a class together
  • The students have more say in how the classroom is run, and thus I have more buy-in.
  • I have spent less time on behavior as a whole class, and more time teaching
  • I get lots of letters and drawings from students telling me how much they like our class, and I have gotten generous compliments from parents/guardians about how well their child is doing in my class, and how much their child enjoys coming to school
  • A student at the beginning of the year threw fits, wouldn’t complete work, and ran out of the classroom at least once a day. As of today, that student hasn’t ran out of the classroom since December, completes work, and is one of the classroom’s biggest helpers, and has since become a very caring individual.
  • A student who would backtalk, roll eyes, disrespectful, etc has been working extremely hard on respect and has become a more caring individual. This student even stood up for another student which made me very proud.
  • I have grown to truly love and care for all of my students. (The word love can be interpreted to mean many different things by many different people, so I am cautious to say this word to my students)
  • All of my students have grown in ways I couldn’t fathom.

I had some bad days, and I might have a few more within the 40 days. I recognize I am not a perfect teacher, and it is okay. I am learning and growing. I had some great ones, and I determined to have more of those, because I am ready to end this year strong so I can look back and say “that year was well worth it.”

Our students understand, what can we learn from them?

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* This post has been sitting in my drafts for a while, oops! It is amazing how fast time gets away from you. *

I recently found this poster (above, courtesy of Aram Kim, PDF version here). A beautiful piece of art about how reading brings us together.

The read aloud portion of my day is my favorite part of our day. My students and I take turns reading to the class each day, as a way for them to build fluency and oration skills, and a way for all of us to build community.

Last night, I participated in #TitleTalk on twitter, and the topic was fostering awareness empathy. It was a fabulous discussion, someone had suggested reading the book Red, A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall. I hadn’t read it before, but I was excited, I could tell by the cover, this was a story that needed to be told. I checked the book out from our school library, called the students to the carpet, told them I hadn’t read this book yet, but I had heard great things about it, so let’s take this adventure together.

bk_crayon_157(Michael Hall’s statement about the book)

On a side note, I love reading a book for the first time with children, we all experience the magic of it together. As the teacher, my reactions to the book are genuine. (I don’t recommend this for all books,  I can tell you a few times that has majorly backfired! But I digress.)

The story of Red follows a crayon who is actually blue, but is labeled as “red.” Red tries his hardest to be red, with the help of his teacher and family and friends, but it doesn’t work, he still colors everything blue! Along the way, he meets another crayon that helps give him a new perspective on himself, and learns that no matter what his label says, he is blue!

As my students and I experienced the story together, I could see their hearts as we read the story. They knew he was blue, and they wanted him to accept this. This book was enjoyed by my class, and I already have bought a copy for my classroom collections. What really amazed me though were the responses to my question for them: “What can we learn from this story?”

“Red wasn’t really red”

“No matter what kind of person you are, you can do anything as long as you put your mind to it.”

“It taught us the [different] names of the crayons.”

“Be who you are.”

“Do what your heart says to do.”

“No matter what you do, you are always special.”

“You are perfect no matter what.”

“See past the color or label and see the person for who they really are.”

“You are good no matter what”

“You should appreciate who you are”

I was so moved by their responses, they get it! They understand!

How can we be like them and learn to accept others for who they are to create a more caring, and accepting world?

Profile of me as a reader

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The other day I sat down to read Dog man by Dav Pilkey and after I read it, I began to think about how much I enjoyed Dav Pilkey’s books when I was in third grade, and that led me thinking about who I was as a reading growing up, and now as an adult.

I remember the time when I was staying over at my best friend William’s, we were in the clubhouse and he had brought some of Captain Underpants books up there. I stayed up way late to finish reading Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space (still one of my favorites). By this point, William was fast asleep and I was pulled into the world of Harold and George and their quest to save their school! I couldn’t put it down, I had to finish it!

When I was a young child, my mother took me to the library at least once a week and I always had a preference for “feel-good” stories, especially Apple Juice Tea and White Rabit’s colors. I managed to check these books out at least every other week, I liked other books, but these two managed to always make it into my stack. I never had any restrictions by my parents or other adults as to what I could take out of the library, I was free to roam and gather whatever I could get my hands on. I should mention too that I had quite the Berenstain Bear’s collection at home that I read religiously (probably more than my bible!) I am happy to say that same collection is delighting my own students in my classroom today.

My parents delighted me in the magic of audiobooks and we listened to several of them on the road when we were traveling across the country. I fondly remember “Monster of the Month Club, The toothpaste millionaire, Fig Pudding, The Henry/Ramona series”, to name a few.

I started enjoying beginning chapter books in third grade, thanks to my teacher, I became quite fond of Junie B. Jones.

As I grew older we still regularly went to the library, it was one of my favorite places to be (and still is). I started expanding my horizons in the library and branched out into non-fiction, specifically in the “grown-ups” section. I would quite often take out these wonderful books filled with lighting styles of different houses like these here:

      

I would also read how to transform your backyard into a lush garden with a pond (possible minor obsession when I was around 9) I had even dug a huge hole, I was ready to go!

    

When I was in 5th grade I had just started playing “The Sims” and OH MY I can’t begin to tell you how obsessed I became with that game (it was probably borderline unhealthy). I also used the library to help me with this game, I would check out floorplan books and draw them on grid paper and construct them in The Sims.

Image result for floor plan books   Image result for house floor plan book

I guess I was intent on becoming an interior designer, pond builder, and home builder extraordinaire!

I checked out whatever I could get my hands on, and I let my interests guide me all over the library. I never was restricted by any means (except my library check-out limit). I never knew my reading level, and I was never told that I could only read certain books, which is why I would check out books from the adult section, because in my mind as a child, books are for everyone! In the library, I was free to be a wild, and wide reader.

It was in 5th grade that I remember falling in love with my first novel, Abel’s Island. Our teacher had us create our own book study and we could choose from several books. I didn’t know much about the book when I was choosing, but when I read it I was captivated by the adventure of the story. It is still one of my favorites today.

In my middle school years, I lost touch with reading and my only reading those years were the mostly boring “whole class novels”. I didn’t have anyone to show me books that were written for middle schoolers, and to be quite honest I didn’t know at the time that books for middle school students existed. In the public libraries, and most that I have visited, middle-grade books are mixed in with the children’s section. I no longer identified as a “child”, and subsequently, I left the children’s section of the library. But I didn’t have a new section to go to, so I left reading behind for a bit. I wish that middle schoolers could have their own section or shelf of the library.

I still used the library as I entered high school, but I still wasn’t the avid reader I had been, but that changed once I had a lot of free time to read. In 11th grade I got a job at a hotel cleaning at night, and the cleaning only took me an hour so I had several hours on my shift I could sit in the laundry room and do nothing, so I decided to pick up some books from the library. At this time I had this sudden fascination with books that were emotionally intense, and books in which characters would die. Several books that I read were: Mick Harte was here, The Rules of Survival, A Summer to Die,  Twisted,  Zach’s lie. I don’t know what drew me to these books, but they satisfied a curiosity in me that left me bawling for hours. I was content. Books were mixed in age range, some were those middle-grade novels I could never find, and some in the newly discovered young adult section.

After discovering the young adult section in high school, I continued reading this genre well into college and after. As I became older and started college I had less time for reading, but I made time for it and read when I could, on the bus, between classes, lunch, etc. I did take a class on Children’s Literature and I enjoyed reading several books during this class I hadn’t read before such as Esperanza Rising, The Tale of Despereaux, Seedfolks, to name a few. The spark of reading was starting to revive. It was during this same time that I also had become a huge fan of Laurie Halse Anderson. I had read Twisted back in high school, and in college I discovered more of her work. Speak is one of my favorite books of all time.

After I graduated college I began teaching, I didn’t read as much as I wanted, and even though I continuously have always used the library, I didn’t feel like I loved reading like I once did. One day at work, I was passing through our school library in the Spring of 2015 and my librarian had told me about this great book The Book Whisperer By Donalyn Miller and how we can get our students reading more. I was intrigued. So I went to the library and checked it out. I read it in two days. I had more answers about how to get my students to love reading, but I also re-fell in love with reading myself, since that day I have been more of an avid reader, returning to my roots as a “wild reader”.

In my classroom, I strive to give my students the same reading experience I had so they may experience the world of reading. Some of my students don’t have access to the public library, so I bring the library experience to them! I give my students freedom to choose, time to read, and a well-stocked classroom library with books of all topics and readability. I do this because I want my students to see the magic of reading, and I hope one day they too, will stay up late “because I had this finish this book!”

To my students now and in the future: A new year’s promise.

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When I launched this blog I intended to have more posts than I currently have, but I am content that I have a handful of posts and I have been able to reach people across the globe. I hope this next year I will be able to write and read more, and reach more people.

This is a latent letter to my students that I have been wanting to write for some time. Times are uncertain, and how we care and treat for our children now, will speak volumes about how we view our future generations. as people. In this letter, I am making a promise and declaration to serve and care for students so they may care for themselves and others, and to help create a better world. As my last post of the year, here it is.

To my students,

I don’t know what this next year will hold for you, our classroom, or myself. There are changes happening, and as your teacher I have to be ready for them so that I can make sure you succeed in our classroom, and beyond.
There are a lot of people out there who are trying to make decisions about how schools are run, and I don’t agree with a lot of those decisions or reasons. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of power to make decisions beyond our classroom, but while I fight on the outside for you, I want to give you some promises that will always be true in our classroom.
I promise to make sure I welcome you with open arms every day you walk into our room. You are safe, and welcome here.

I promise to help you know what true and factual information looks like, and how to seek it out for yourself. There will be people out there who will try to deceive you, I hope one day if that happens you can look that person in the eye and say “That’s false, and here is why.”

I promise to show you how magical reading can be, and how it will change your life forever! I will never restrict your access to literature by any arbitrary means. 

I promise to give unconditional love and acceptance, and to treat you as human beings when it comes to discipline. I will not use systems that offer anything less than respect and dignity.

I promise to always be there for you, well after third grade. Whether you come see me years after you leave elementary school, or if you send me an e-mail later in life. I will answer.

I promise to look at any curriculum with a discerning eye and use it in a way that I know is best. My “fidelity” is not to a curriculum, it is to YOU.

I promise to be open and transparent about anything you ask, you are human and are capable of hearing the truth (kid-sized of course).

I promise to be the best teacher I can be, because while I will get many years as a teacher, I only get one shot at being YOUR teacher, and I want to be the best that I can be for YOU.

I promise all these things to you and more, because I want you to know how much I care for you and the world, and in turn I want you to care for yourself, others, and the world. Because we will need you to make this world a better place. 

With all my sincerity, may this next year be our best!

– Mr. Henderson