Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Choose Kind

In my classroom, as you enter, there is a sign on my front bulletin board.  It says, "The Pursuit of Truth in the Company of Friends". It is my ideal educational goal, one that I point out to my students, but don't really spend enough time pondering with them throughout my year.  Next year, I intend to change that.

As I reflect on my practice as a teacher and am in the "brewing and stewing" stage of planning for next year, I find myself coming back again and again to the concept of a teacher as a leader of humane thinking practices.  Yes, first and foremost, I am there to guide students into becoming literate citizens, capable of critical thought and intelligent discourse.  Yet, is there not an emotional literacy as well?  One that when students are separating themselves from their parents and going into a wide world of complex social and emotional landscapes, they should be able to navigate just as responsibly?

How does this tie to together with reading and writing workshop and classroom practices?

Well, as I am re-imagining my classroom for next year, I am compelled to tether my reading and writing lessons to a larger life truth.  Some would call these "Essential Understandings".  Others might term them "Themes".  But, I find myself coming back again and again to Mr. Brown, the language arts teacher in R.J. Palacio's amazing book, Wonder, and wanting to call them PRECEPTS.  You can find a full list of the precepts Mr. Brown uses here.

The precept that is most prevalent in the book and I keep reflecting upon is the first,
"When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind." by Dr. Wayne Dyer.

This has resonance with me in so many ways.  First and foremost, it is a life lesson worth learning.  Bullying prevention is finally beginning to gain some traction in our district, our school.  Capitalizing on the gains we made with students last year, and passing on that lesson to incoming sixth graders can only strengthen our resolve and add to our force for good.  We had some really great moments last year,  including the incredible writing done by staff and students during No Name-Calling Week to our STAMP Out Bullying seminar.  I refuse to lose even an inch of that ground.  We can do more.  We can CHOOSE KIND.

Secondly, in a literacy classroom, there are a lot of pitfalls that make people afraid to practice their reading aloud or let someone else see their writing.  Students who are afraid of ridicule eventually stop bringing their mistakes to light, which stops learning from happening, and eventually they avoid reading and writing at all.  I'm looking at my own style of descriptive feedback or critique and finding that I need to not lighten the feedback I give, but stop and think about the tone in which it is given -- especially in writing.  No writer wants to keep going back and fixing a draft, but will be even less likely to do so if they think that there is no good to the work they've already done, that they have no value as a writer.  I can do better.  I can CHOOSE KIND.

Those of you who have had me as a teacher or worked with me for the last nine years know that I always use two books each year.  No matter what other books I add or take away, I always read The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis and Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick.  They are both amazing, well-written books, with strong messages to mull over and challenge sixth grade readers.  I always start my year with Freak the Mighty, because I feel its message about friendship overcoming the differences in people (in kid parlance: don't judge a book by its cover)

This year, I'll be adding a third book to that canon.  I might even use it in conjunction with Freak the Mighty, but I expect that this book will be more than just a great book.  This book will become a text we choose as a pattern for our time together in the classroom for the rest of the year.  Wonder is such a charming, original, funny story that, even if its message hadn't become a revolution, it would still be a tour-de-force of great storytelling.  Augie Pullman's story is extraordinary, but it is still the story of all of us, striving to be accepted for who we are at our best, at our core.  Check out the book trailer.

I intend to join this movement, this revolution.  I  intend to CHOOSE KIND.

In fact, in addition to adopting and adapting Mr. Brown's Precepts in my classroom and using Wonder as a read-aloud, I will be using this mantra to inform the very fabric of my practice, the procedures of my classroom, and the rules of behavior which we will expect ourselves to live by.  It will help me structure my own feedback to students. It will permeate how we encourage and coach each other in our reading and writing.  We will CHOOSE KIND.

If you'd like to join too or learn more about the CHOOSE KIND movement, check out the Twitter feed #thewonderofwonder, or better yet go take the pledge to CHOOSE KIND and pass it on at their website.

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