Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life: Joy and Relationships Lead to Rigor and Growth #SOL19 #TWTBlog
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Slice of Life: Joy and Relationships Lead to Rigor and Growth #SOL19 #TWTBlog

She catches my attention as she pops into the room.  My eyes can’t help but avert.  I realize my mind is not with my mouth and try to refocus on what I am saying.  As she turns the corner around the table her outfit comes into full view.  She heads toward me as the only seat available is the one right next to me.  I now realize I have stopped talking and am staring at her.

Sorry I’m late.

I know I should say no worries.  I know I should welcome her, tell her I’m glad she’s here.  I know I should remember to keep my inside-the-head voice inside my head.  I finally find my words.

We’re just getting started.

As she takes her seat, I get a close of up of her outfit.  It is a mix of colors and an array of pieces that work together in a way I don’t typically see on a teacher, in a school, or really on anyone, anywhere.  Maybe it is a theme day.  But those are not pajamas, nothing is on backwards, and no sports team is represented in her outfit.  I scan the table.  No other teacher is dressed like this. This is not a theme day. Maybe this is just her outfit. 

The inner dialogue regarding her outfit continues in my head as I get back to facilitating the study group.  Time is limited and I know we need to stay on task.

I can’t take it.  I have to know.  I finally blurt out, “What’s going on?”  She launches into sharing how her students are doing with the new unit of study. She reaches for a sample of student writing to show me. 

No.  I mean with your outfit. 

As the words leave my mouth, I realize this may have been a risk. 

She looks down and starts to laugh.

Oh.  I’m dressed like this for my students.

I wait, signaling I need clarity.

My students earned a celebration for the hard work they have been doing. They chose to have me join them for physical education as their celebration. 

My inside-the-head voice is back. I know I have an agenda.  I know I should stay on task, but I have to know more.

Wait.  Tell me more.

I give them choices for celebration.  They love to play with me, and they know I love to run around and play with them too.  It was so sweet that they picked what they wanted, but they really picked it because they know I love it too. I love joining their P.E. class because I love to encourage the importance of how exercise positively effects the body and brain to focus and grow. I also feel that it’s just another way to build a relationship with them and show them that I care.

There are so many questions running through my head.  What are the other choices?  How did you come up with this idea?  Do know how amazing this story is?  Do you know I want to spend the next ninety minutes talking about this?

You have to tell me more about it later.  I then lean over and take a closer look at her student writing.

I spend my time in lots of schools.  I have seen an uncountable number of celebrations or reward days.  While there is a range, most seem to cluster around wearing something unusual, watching a movie, getting extra recess, a party with food, extra time reading, extra time to buddy with a class, and the list goes on and on.  I have never experienced a teacher offering to spend more time with her class as a way to celebrate.

This moment, the image of her in that outfit has stayed with me.  I keep thinking about it.  The simplicity of it.  The joy of it. The profound message it sends.  These are the moments that humble me, teach me and remind me what really matters in teaching and learning.

Research shows that engagement matters.  Robert Marzano, in his book The Highly Engaged Classroom, highlights important tips to create an engaging learning environment for students.  His research demonstrates that in order to foster student engagement, classroom decisions need to be based on four questions, “How do I feel?  Am I interested?  Is it important? Can I do this?”  He then went on to show that teacher-student relationships are key to ensuring that students feel good about being in class and can respond positively to the question, “How do I feel?”  “One of the most interesting aspects of powerful teacher-student relationships is that they are forged by behavior and words as opposed to thoughts and feelings. Stated differently, it is not what a teacher thinks and feels about a particular student that forges a positive relationship with the student. Rather, it is how the teacher speaks to and behaves with the student that communicates respect and acceptance (p. 36).”  Enter the image of this teacher that I can’t get out of my head!

If we know that engagement is key to learning and how a student feels about learning and that a teacher is key to this engagement, then we need to start paying attention to the instructional moves teachers make.  The “how” of our teaching matters. Even if we have a perfect curriculum, this research shows that if the student is not engaged the information never even makes it into working memory.  I am sure this teacher had a ton of things are on her to-do list.  I know she could have used that time to prep and plan.  I believe, however, that the choice she made, on that day for that reason, will most likely have more impact on her students’ learning than anything else she could have done.

We need to slow down.  We need to remember we are teaching children.  They are listening and watching.  Our words and behaviors matter.  Thank you, Jennifer Rogers, for teaching me an important lesson that day.  Joy and relationships are key to rigor and growth – because without them research shows the brain will not fully engage.


Thank you, Betsy, Beth, Deb, Kathleen, Kelsey, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for this weekly forum from Two Writing Teachers. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.

  • Avatar
    Tammy L Breitweiser
    Posted at 14:48h, 04 March Reply

    Thank you for these thoughts today.

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    Alex Papp
    Posted at 14:52h, 04 March Reply

    Your writing voice is so engaging and the voice inside your head is so entertaining. lol. “Maybe it is a theme day. But those are not pajamas, nothing is on backwards, and no sports team is represented in her outfit…maybe it’s just her outfit.” This had me laughing out loud. I love when an author knows her audience well enough to not have to explain the joke.

  • Avatar
    Susan Kennedy
    Posted at 14:54h, 04 March Reply

    So powerful. This is definite keep, share, ponder post.

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    Lynne Dorfman
    Posted at 14:55h, 04 March Reply

    Wow, Clare. A lot of food for thought. I always feel like I am there with you when you relate a memory – vivid details, dialogue, feelings, reflection on lessons learned!

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    Paula Bourque
    Posted at 14:56h, 04 March Reply

    Celebrating by giving our time and attention is the best. I work with several teachers who offer LUNCH WITH THE TEACHER as an option and it is one of the favorites. These teachers give up some planning or much needed down time to create connection with the kiddos who often need it most. I admire them so much. Thanks for sharing this slice and reminding us how selfless and caring teachers are every single day-and it never makes the headlines.

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    Karen Szymusiak
    Posted at 14:59h, 04 March Reply

    I love that you focus on joy and relationships today. It’s the core of what I believe about learning and teaching. Thank you, Clare!

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    Posted at 15:22h, 04 March Reply

    “The “how” of our teaching matters. Even if we have a perfect curriculum, this research shows that if the student is not engaged the information never even makes it into working memory”
    These words are important for all of us to remember. And now I have a fun story to help recall this fact..

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    Peter von Euler
    Posted at 17:21h, 04 March Reply

    This is so cool. I love the way you wrote it, with the inside thoughts that just couldn’t stay inside. It created a bit of tension, since none of us knew how she was going to respond. I loved her response, of course, a great excuse for looking a bit unusual. This line of questions from the book: “How do I feel? Am I interested? Is it important? Can I do this?” Is also a great thing for me to take from your post. Keeping these 4 questions in mind every day would go a long way toward making school work. Thank you.

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    Holly McKean
    Posted at 17:36h, 04 March Reply

    Appreciate that you honored this teacher by first asking and listening…and then sharing and acknowledging this teacher. Sometimes the little things make the most difference

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    Diane Dougherty
    Posted at 18:04h, 04 March Reply

    This teacher has learned the power of actions and words, as you have too. I don’t know if I would have had the courage to engage her about her outfit, but look what you discovered as a result and look what her colleagues (may have) discovered too! Your inner voice is entertaining. Love this slice for what it makes me think about.

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    Melanie Meehan
    Posted at 00:28h, 05 March Reply

    I am so sending this to some of the principals I work with. I’m not even sure which part I’d highlight, there’s so much here. At the end of it all, maybe it’s just that people remember how you make them feel more than what you say, and that’s true for teachers and students. Love this.

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    Amanda Potts
    Posted at 02:03h, 05 March Reply

    What a powerful post. There is much here that I want to write down, mull over, react to. And I love the way you wrote about it – the way you couldn’t keep your questions in, the risk you (inadvertently) took. “How do I feel? Am I interested? Is it important? Can I do this?” I’ll remember these questions.

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    Christy Rush-Levine
    Posted at 03:58h, 05 March Reply

    So much to love here! Imagine what you (and we) may have missed had you not been so present in the moment! Being your authentic self drew out a story worth sharing.

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    Mandy Robek
    Posted at 12:20h, 05 March Reply

    We do need to slow down. I just love this line – I should remember to keep my inside-the-head voice inside my head. I have often said to my oldest, you can think it and it doesn’t need to be said out loud.

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