Saturday, September 21, 2013

Acts of Kindness

When I was preparing for this school year I knew I wanted to focus a great deal on our character to start off the year. I’ve shared picture books, stories, articles, blog posts, and videos all in an attempt to get my students to think before they act. In some ways, I see growth. In others, my heart hurts because I so desperately want them to “get it,” but see that we still have a way to go.

Choose Kind.

When I read the book Wonder in the winter of 2012, I remember thinking it was a great book, an important book. I wanted students to read it, absorb the betrayal by a friend at the beginning. To see what meanness can look like. To recognize that the ugliness resides in each one of us, the true strength lies in what we decide to do about that. Do we try to put people down to make others laugh? So that we can be popular? Are we strong enough to stand on our own? I love that book. I love it so much that I begged the one new student in my classroom to read it so the entire class would know the message. (We had Wonder as our all school read aloud last year.)

We’re growing. We’re growing because of books like The Story of Fish & Snail. As soon as I can get our *&#@ color printer to work, we will have nametags in our coat hall that will remind us to Be Brave, just like snail. I think the daily reminder is important.

We’re growing because of books like Each Kindness and Bluebird where we learn that sometimes it is too late to take our actions back. We need to think before we act. That our actions speak louder, at times, than our words. That people form opinions about us by what we do and what we say. We’ve asked ourselves what message we are sending out to others.

We’re learning and growing. Sometimes being a teacher reminds me of being a parent – the hopeless feeling that I really don’t have any control. I can try and try to send the message to them, unless they are ready, they don’t have to listen. It can be frustrating, but it can be so rewarding.

We’ve had our moments. The students know I’m tired. We’ve just finished our fifth week of school and I still haven’t had the chance to conference with them. RTI assessments, Fountas & Pinnell assessments, have taken up every moment of the day when I’m not instructing. Friday a student from my rotation came in to do her Fountas & Pinnell test. I sat on the floor at the front of the room while she read – shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, leg to leg. We sat and I listened to Kayla beautifully read about a train at the top of the world. I felt exhaustion in every bone. I was so weary that I just wanted to drop off, take a short nap. Kayla explained to me about permafrost, altitude sickness, her thoughts on taking chances. She was awesome. In a voice I didn’t think was very loud, I looked up when she was done and said, “Kayla, we did it. You’re my last F&P test for the fall.” My entire class burst into applause. I looked up and smiled. We are all ready for a normal routine. And while they might still be struggling in choosing to be kind to each other, they all are beyond kind to me.

Unexpected kindness always moves me to tears. Whether it is my class cheering, watching a student hug another because she knew the other child was upset, or the act of a stranger. A few weeks ago on Twitter I was tweeting about book talks. I shared that I had a student I needed to “introduce” to the book One for the Murphys. That this student needed Carley in a way that not all kids do, in a way that broke my heart.  Lynda Mullaly Hunt saw that tweet and sent me a message, asking if she could do her own act of kindness. I wish she could have been at school when I pulled my student out in the hall on Friday. How I described the book to her and watched her eyes – with so much in them – as she nodded when I described Carley’s story. As she asked if she could read the book, and then gasped and was moved to tears when I opened the cover. How she held the book to her chest and whispered, “It’s for me?” I wish Lynda had seen it to know what she did. Her act was a pebble in the water, just Woodson tells us about in Each Kindness. I cannot wait to see the ripples from it.

We have finished twenty-three days of school. Twenty-three days of read alouds, writing lessons, book talks, and choosing kind. We have grown and stretched as fifth graders. We haven’t yet arrived at where I want us to be, but I like where we’re headed. If we can just remember the lessons from the books we read, I think we’ll be ok.

Be Brave.

Choose Kind.