Friday, September 27, 2013

Teaching the Whole Child

When I look at the Common Core State Standards, I see a glaring hole. I see what I need to teach in reading and in writing, but what the authors of CCSS failed to see, what many parents don’t realize, is that I’m teaching so much more than the standards.

I know so many of you already know this, but teaching is not just about growing academically. Our responsibility as teachers is to teach the whole child. While I knew this before, when I became a parent this mission grew. As my own children have grown closer to my grade, the need to teach items not found on a list of standards has intensified.

It’s hard to describe what we do throughout a school year and have anyone else understand. I think it would be fascinating to write down the decisions I make and the discussions I have in a day and analyze them. For example, on a daily basis I help students find books, decode words, read for meaning, grow as writers, analyze words for spelling insights, teach technology apps, create projects, and more. I also sooth hurt feelings, have lessons on friendship, discuss peer pressure, hold mini-lessons on sportsmanship, dry tears, dole out hugs, and on, and on, and on.

This week is the perfect example of what I am referring to. On Tuesday I had lunch in my classroom, shoveling food into my mouth as I rushed to grade a stack of reading responses in the few minutes before the students returned. As I sat in my quiet classroom, voices drifted up from the playground below. I listened as a few girls in my class spoke unkindly about another child. My heart hurt as I wondered, once again, what makes children behave this way. I debated what to do, and decided to wait.

Wednesday I brought in two items that I had received in the mail on Tuesday. Both items were examples of kind things two friends had done for me the day before. Both friends hadn’t needed to do either thing, and expected nothing in return. I showed these examples to my students. I talked about how these acts told me a lot about my friends. What type of people they are. We talked about how the words we say and the actions we carry out make up who we are as people. While we can say that judging others is wrong, we do it. And the way we judge others is based on how they act and what we say. I shared with them the fact that I had overheard the conversation from recess. Some folks eyes got big when they realized I had heard them. We talked about the concern I have, some of the “meanness” that I have seen this year rocks me to my core. It is a new level for me and one that I am unsure how to handle. We discussed Julian from Wonder. They can all point out what he did wrong, but they do not see it in themselves and I worry.

Then the conversation took an interesting turn. Several boys in my rotation are in JFL – Junior Football League. They had their final game of the season that night. They began talking about sportsmanship on the field and trash talking, linking it to bullying and choosing kind. We had a great discussion over the fact that we don’t play dirty, trash talk, or find a need to do celebration dances in the end zone. Our actions show if we are the superior team. We even pulled in Walter Payton into the discussion talking about the example he set on the field. I didn’t realize how important this conversation would be.

A few hours later I was watching that game. My son, Luke, is on the team. I watched the other team take cheap shots, throw some punches in piles, and have personal foul after personal foul called against them. While I am not usually very competitive, I wanted our team to win. I couldn’t believe that fifth graders were playing this way and their coach was not benching them. It was ugly.

We won. I walked down on the field to congratulate the players – my students. One group rushed over to me and said, “Mrs. S – you need to go teach those kids about Payton and Choosing Kind.” I just hugged them and said congratulations.

Looking over my students the next day I shared that story with each class. The way we act matters. The words we use matters. The lessons I am pouring into them for the last six weeks cannot be aligned to any standard, but I am beginning to think that if I didn’t start here, we wouldn’t get where we need to go. This group that I am surrounded by each day is one I am growing so fond of. I know they can make better choices, I know they can be brave. There are issues, but there are so many bright spots when I look at their faces. I am simply blinded by them.