04 Mar 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.
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.
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