This fall, we’ve been talking about everyday courage in schools. We’ve written about the courage it takes to start a new team, using technology to open up communication with students and to open up our practice.
We’ve shared examples about how teachers are showing up, engaging in hard conversations about race, their own practice, about getting negative feedback and sharing our work and selves with others. We’ve heard about how students are leading the way when given the support at school to do so: working for acceptance, equality and identity and systems that let every voice be heard. Here are three themes we’ve seen emerge.
The #everydaycourage of doing nothing
As we cultivate more self-direction in students, their lives get more complicated. They have a greater responsibility to themselves and their success.
How can we nurture the whole student as they grapple with becoming agents of their own education?
Seeing failure as iteration
A trio of students at Crossett Brook Middle School, in Duxbury VT, have spent the past two years building a go-cart. When their first cart snapped in half on its maiden voyage, the students took that incident as a challenge, and the next year, they figured out what had gone wrong, and better yet, what would make it go right.
And the results have to be seen to be believed.
Feedback often feels like criticism. But what if we used it as an opportunity to grow?
In third grade, I had my own time-out chair in the principal’s office. My exuberant chattiness, combined with an 8-year-old’s lack of social filter frequently earned me a trip to that chair that sat in the corner facing the clock.
My face would burn with shame as I trudged down the long hall. As I sat and waited for the loud ticking of the clock to signal my release, I would try to figure out what I’d done wrong. Sometimes it was obvious: Nathan’s story hadn’t “gone to the dogs” as I’d loudly proclaimed. (But it had just seemed like the perfect punchline to the joke when my teacher had asked…‘Where has your story gone?…’)
Other times, many times, I was completely bewildered. I’d do my time, and then return to the flow of the classroom, as if I’d never left, edgy and bracing for my next invisible (to me) infraction.
Based upon the frequency of these visits, I doubt they were learning experiences. Instead, they were punitive, spirit-crushing time-outs; lost opportunities for growth.
The #everydaycourage of being seen
Take the iconic back-to-school prompt for students — what I did on my summer vacation — and give it a twist. Imagine how students might respond to the prompt What I think my teacher did on summer vacation.
A lot of us wish other folks knew how hard we work during summer: the workshops, the team planning time, the reflection, the resource-gathering. So a lot of us should share out all the work we’re doing.
Let’s look at four ways Vermont educators are sharing their practice.
#everydaycourage is always around us if we can slow down to notice it.
I spent many years working in a therapeutic school with teens who were struggling with anxiety, depression, mental health, and the impacts of trauma. If you let the pace of the year carry you forward, it was easy to lose sight of the progress we were making.
I remember going to see a production of a musical with students from a mainstream school. I remember watching it and being incredibly impressed with their talents, skills, and bravery in performance. And I felt sad. My students in our alternative school had faced so much in their lives, and it was unlikely that many of them would be able to do something like get up in front of an audience of hundreds and sing.
Those were the thoughts I had when I was swept up in the school year. But I wasn’t noticing the #everydaycourage and growth right in front of me.
Conversations begin at home. And at the bus stop. Also the market. And–
So much of the change we need to see right now can be kicked off by starting conversations with members of your community.
It takes a certain amount of courage to address issues that affect your whole community — such as bullying, hate speech and equity — with people who you may never have spoken with before.
But it’s effective. And the more you do it, the easier it gets. Let’s look at 4 ways to start a difficult conversation in your community.
How will your students prepare for active engagement in democracy?
Last spring Christie Nold, a 6th grade teacher at Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School, was at Burlington’s Jazz Fest listening to student musicians when she got some disturbing news: someone had spray-painted racist hate speech on her school’s campus.
Overwhelmed by her own emotions, Nold also knew that she had to find a way to help her students deal with their own understandings and emotions about the graffiti. Like Christie, many teachers are wondering how to address a recent rise in racism and white supremacy.
3 ways to de-privatize our practice
My first teaching job was in the library at a large, open-concept elementary school in Howard County, Maryland. The library was the hub of the school. During my classes teachers, administrators, and para-professionals walked freely in and out of the library, occasionally stopping to watch our progress.
And it was terrifying.
I felt scrutinized! But, after many months of these informal observations, I began to relax, and then having all of those eyes on my teaching was hugely helpful.
My mindset shifted from helpless vulnerability to hopeful vulnerability; this was an opportunity to learn from experts.
The birth of a YA teacher’s book club
“Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. You’ve just got to keep doing right.”
–Starr’s mom, in The Hate U Give by Angela Thomas