Why we hate it and what to do about it.Read More
I find no greater joy than feeling like I am trusted.
It’s why marriage can be so glorious. There is another human being who trusts you enough to spend every day of their life with you.
It’s why it feels really good when a friend offers to loan you their car. They are saying I trust that you will take care of something I paid a lot of money for and need in my day-to-day life.
It’s why I love being a dad. There is a tiny human being who relies on me for his survival, and so he digs his head into my shoulder when he is shy or scared.
He trusts that I can take care of him.
We want to be trusted.
There was a boy in my class who had been bullied for years. He is small and quiet, and in middle and high school, this draws a bullseye on your back. So the boy grew used to this at the beginning of each school year.
It took about 3 days for someone to take aim at him. This boy had spent the last couple weeks feeling miserable every moment of the day. A bully following him around, whispering mean things in his ear, cowering this boy into silence, and making him hate his time in school more and more.
Finally this boy had enough, and said that he wanted to leave our school because of this bully.
I was pissed.
I wanted the bully to leave our school instead. I wanted to scare him into repentance.
Call him out in front of the class.
Make him feel a sliver of the pain he made this other boy feel.
I wanted to call his parents and make the bully confess his sins in front of them.
I wanted to make him write a 5 page paper about why bullying is bad, along with a plan of how he was going to stop.
I wanted to make him watch a 60 Minutes episode about teen suicide in America.
I wanted to get him suspended for 10 days, and make him spend the rest of the semester trying to get caught up.
I wanted to make an example out of him, so every potential bully at our school would know what happens when you intentionally hurt someone who does not deserve it.
I kind of wanted to make him cry, and show him that he’s not as tough as he thinks he is.
I wanted to get revenge for my 12 year-old self.
I wanted to call him a bully.
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Instead I asked him if he had a second to talk outside of the classroom.
I said, “_______, I need your help.
“Okay Mr. Muir?”
“We have a kid in our class, _______, who is not liking it here. He’s not making friends, and not everyone has been that nice to him.”
“I’ve already noticed that you’re a leader, and people follow you and look up to you. I was hoping you could take this boy under your wing for me. Be his friend. Protect him. I know everyone else will do the same if they see you do it. Can I trust you with this?”
I watched him walk back into the room and sit in his seat in a sort of wonder. He looked off into space for a minute, then I saw his gaze move to the small boy on the other side of the room.
The next day I came into my classroom to see both boys sitting together, talking and smiling.
I didn't get my revenge. But this was better.
Image credit: wokandapix CC
Authenticity is key in a successful project-based learning environment, and even a traditional learning environment for that matter, and I could write a book about that fact (I actually am working on that book, keep an eye out for it).
But this post is about finding that authentic audience or authentic element for your projects and lessons. I have found that teaching in a new and fresh way means that my planning time can look very different as well. I spend a significant amount of time during the planning stages of projects brainstorming potential organizations, people, and communities who might want to partner with my class on projects. I'm going to spend the rest of the time in this post describing what that looks like.
1. I figure out what the project is roughly going to be about.
Do any themes emerge from my content standards that helps the standards relate with each other in some way? Once I identify a solid theme within a group of standards, I ask the question(s): What can we do that is important that will help students understand these standards? Is there a problem my students can help solve that relates to this theme? Who can I contact to partner up with me and my class?
2. Once I've got my basic idea, I do some research.
Nothing complicated here. Just get on Google and start searching for organizations or businesses in the area that are doing something that relates to your project idea. I had a project idea that involved refugees. So I simply Googled: Refugees Grand Rapids, MI
Here's the thing though: you do not have to limit who you work with based on your original idea. I find that some of the best project ideas come from brainstorming with non-education professionals. I knew I wanted to do something with refugees, but did not know exactly what. After sitting down with a social worker for an hour, who knows far more about the story and the plight of refugees arriving in America, we had an awesome task and problem for my students to help solve. So be open to who you contact during the research phase of this process.
3. Lastly, it's time to COLD CALL.
Cold calling, meaning contacting someone you do not know at all, can be scary. I think it can be scary because it can be so unfamiliar for us, especially if we have been working in a teaching environment that has never required it before. The idea of calling professionals to provide an authentic audience for my students was never once mentioned in my education program in college. And to me, that is travesty, because cold calling is what has brought some of the greatest success and motivation to my classroom. Here's some things to keep in mind while cold calling:
- The phone is better than email. Don't get me wrong, email is fine sometimes and for some it's the best way of communicating, but I have had so much more success getting a hold of people and arranging professionals to come work with my class by picking up the phone rather than emailing. It's personal, it's intentional, and shows the person you are contacting that are serious about them working with your students. Not to mention, emails get lost or buried in inboxes. If someone gets a voicemail from you, and then does not respond, they almost always will get back to you after getting another voicemail. Sometime you have to be a squeaky wheel to get the oil (I sound like my grandpa). But it is worth being squeaky if you can bring your classroom to the next level!
- You get more yes' than no's. I worked in business development prior to teaching and I heard the word NO 9 times out of 10 when calling on businesses. But it is far different with teaching. I find that businesses and nonprofits WANT to be a part of schools; they want to be a part of the community. Especially if you are offering to help solve a problem for them. When I called the refugee social work agency and told the social worker that I wanted my class to get to know some refugees in Grand Rapids, hear their stories, and find ways to help out; do you think she said NO? Of course not! She said, "Oh that is awesome! We'd love to work with you guys. Can I come to your school and talk with you about it?" I've heard this enthusiastic YES over and over again. From retirement homes, books stores, microfinance banks in Africa, and even TEDx, people want to be a part of what we are doing as teachers.
- And if they say NO, so what? Seriously, if someone doesn't want to work with your class, find someone else. The word NO does not hurt that bad, and it means you reached out and asked. You will not get something if you do not ask.
Be bold in what you want for your classroom! There is so much out there for our kids to explore, be exposed to, and serve, and I think it should be one of our primary tasks as teachers to help create those opportunities for them.
I'm going to write my next few posts, dare I call it a series, on some things that never change in education.
No, not those types of things. This will not be a rant.
I want to explore some of the ideas, practices, and motivations that are constant; perpetual.
Ed-technology is great. I love Google Docs, and when my SmartBoard works, it's fantastic. And I also love many of the innovative ways that are being used to teach. Project based learning, Genius Hour, and Flipped Classrooms are wonderful and sometimes very effective. They are changing and developing to fit each new generation. And that is good.
But I want to look at the parts of teaching that seem to be molded to its bedrock; a part of the foundation that holds everything else up. Truths young teachers like myself learned to emulate from masters, and no matter how many technologies are introduced or practices developed, these things remain constant.
So let's start with a story.
My parents divorced each other when I was in 6th grade. I was too busy playing in the woods, jumping on the trampoline, and hanging out with friends to notice that they did not love each other, and that my dad was sleeping on the couch a lot.
So when they said they were splitting up, I was devastated. The fact that there was a high number of divorces among my generation did nothing to soften the blow of a family being ripped apart. Pain usually came from getting stung by wasps or fighting with my brothers. But this pain hurt in a much more severe way, and it was suffocating and more than a little boy should have to handle.
Top that off that it was my first year of middle/public school.
I remember one of those overwhelming, lonely days in sixth grade when I stared into space in Geography class trying not to think about what was going on at home, and I realized class was over and I was by myself in my desk.
"Trevor, are you alright?" Mr. Peters asked me. He was about 30 years old, loved basketball, and once said the word damn in front of the class, so he was cool to me.
I told him I was fine and started packing up my books. He sat down in the desk next to me and said again, "Trevor, are you alright?"
I looked at his eyes for a second and then looked back to the floor. After a moment, I looked back up and Mr. Peters was still looking at me. I tried again to tell him I was fine, but my voice choked up and my 11 year-old eyes filled with tears and I couldn't say anything.
Whether it was some magical intuition or that my mom called him, I don't know, but Mr. Peters said, "Are your parents divorced?" I nodded yes, and he said,"My wife and I are getting a divorce right now, and my little girl is having a really tough time with it. Can you tell me about it?"
And he spent his 1 hour prep period talking to me, and wrote me a pass to skip math class. And I talked to him everyday the rest of that year. And he hardly said a word.
He just listened.
There was nothing constant about my home-life in middle school. It was sometimes good, and sometimes very painful. But Mr. Peters would listen to me everyday. And now that I'm a teacher, I know that he did not have time to listen to me everyday.
But he did.
And it saved me.
I have many, many students who are struggling. Whether it's divorce, depression, or abuse, most of their stories are much harsher and more painful than mine. And I cannot relate to all of them or offer sage wisdom and advice.
But I can listen.
And there is a chance that listening might save someone.
Because listening is one of those powerful things that never changes.