Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Day 8: Be the Change You Want to See

It was either a strange coincidence or exceptional planning-- while our daily agenda stated Social Emotional Learning as a focus for the afternoon, we also happened to spend much of the day checking in on our own social emotional well being. This could be one of the many examples of how our work at this institute is organic and meaningful--we have come to own what we discuss, integrating theories and pedagogy into the very fabric of our being.  

Perhaps we were subconsciously acknowledging that there is an inextricable connection between teaching social emotional learning and attending to our own social emotional needs. After all, this job we have been called upon to undertake can be all-encompassing, and as Sandra noted earlier this week, the importance of self-care is paramount to maintaining longevity and effectiveness in the classroom.

If those first two paragraphs make absolutely no sense to you, no need to worry. It could simply be yet another example of a teacher who is suffering from DTM syndrome. But please, bear with me! I am taking a risk in playing around with the structure of this blog piece. I am making an attempt at being clever and creative, something I am not in real life. And now I have you as my audience, you poor things. So here goes…

Michelle is back! We were greeted with her return, and although she probably wasn’t feeling one hundred percent healthy, she pushed through the day's work, making sure to keep her contact limited to the sanitary kind. Thanks for sanitary tips, Nancy S!

Another strange coincidence, or perhaps another example of clairvoyant planning, was the connection between the two writing pieces that were read aloud to start the day. I read three vignettes from Sandra Cisneros’s classic coming of age novel The House on Mango Street--which blends poetry and prose to touch on a variety of themes and issues, including femininity and gender identity as seen through the eyes of a Latina adolescent- and Theresa read Benazir Bhutto’s speech “Male Dominance of Women” which so elegantly expresses the urgency for gender equality, not only in Islam, but in institutions across the globe. Although different in genre and style, both pieces were excellent examples of phenomenal writing. Sandra noted how the speech showed the beauty of nonfiction--the way Bhutto used parallelism, repetition, imagery, and vivid language. It’s fascinating how Theresa’s love for her content area--social science-- and my love for literature that breaks the rules and redefines what powerful writing is somehow organically merged into a text set on feminism. 

The read-alouds led us into a conversation about the recent tragedies and challenges facing our country today. Many of us expressed a sense of feeling overwhelmed and somewhat helpless in the face of such seemingly insurmountable problems. We agreed that while we may not have the answers nor ability to cure the ills plaguing our country and world, there are ways we can be the change we want to see. Jan recommended using Steve’s book From Inquiry to Action to empower students with the skills and tools they need in order to become changemakers themselves.

At this point, Amy accurately sensed that we needed some time to write. Our teachers know us so well! We carried our materials to our favorite spaces and began the work of the day. The room buzzed softly with quiet conversations, while pens, pencils, and laptop keys recorded our efforts of putting thoughts on the page. Writing is hard! And we were hard at work today. But the comfort and support of our writing groups fueled our hearts and minds as we pushed through our writing time.  

Writing group time is a treasure. Truly. This is not an overstatement. To hear the evolution of a person’s work, to listen to their struggles and goals, to support them as they try to make sense out of a web of complexity and chaos--this experience nourishes the soul like nothing else. Our groups have become intimate circles of inspiration. I consider myself lucky!

Before we moved on to work on inquiry projects, Steve felt compelled to make a special announcement and used his teacher voice to get our attention. Like the Quakers say, the spirit moved him. Steve thanked us for filling him with hope. Positive energy, enthusiasm to work and learn, excitement to teach, and taking care of one another--all attributes Steve has seen in us. To this, I say thank you, to Steve, to Jan, to Amy, and to all of our guest speakers for providing us with what has so far been the most unique and fulfilling professional development experience I have ever participated in. (Sorry, I’m a touchy, feely ENFP). 

Inquiry work looked exactly like what you would hope it looks like in your classroom: busy, individualized, messy, and productive. Energy flowed freely throughout the library, as people perused books, sat in corners thinking and writing, huddled together in conferences, and refilled their plates with enough sustenance to keep the brains buzzing. The movement of people and ideas cannot be adequately captured by the words in this post. But what a sight to see! Just the movement alone was enough to put any teacher who loves to DTM and nerd-out in complete awe! Lunch? Who needs lunch? We don’t take a “lunch” at this workshop. We snack while we work. That’s how we roll. 

The second half of our day was spent exploring the topics of science and social emotional learning. We were led by Nancy, Becky, and Sandy (sorry, didn’t catch their last names). The presenters got us up and moving right away, and provided us with a cool science toy to play with. In groups of 3 and 4, we experimented with our “Energy Sticks” (Energy Stick) asking questions, posing hypotheses, playing around with making music, changing our hand placement, and studying the changes we observed. Luckily for me (the person who is scientifically challenged) Katrina was in my group. She clearly articulated how and why the energy travelled through our bodies and into the energy stick (you’ll have to ask her for a more detailed explanation :)

Our presenters also touched on the use of science journals as both a record of student learning as well as a means to inform future instruction. Science journals can function as study guides as well as a portfolio of student learning and growth. The presenters emphasized that science journals can and should house words and images, symbols, illustrations, and diagrams that students can create as visuals of their understanding (also known as sketchnoting). As always, it’s important to model HOW to write in the science notebook, as well as to look at exemplars, such as notebooks kept by Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein. We had a chance to practice writing in a science journal by writing about our experience with the energy stick. A key takeaway was that the science notebook can function much like a writer’s notebook-- and that is, it is the place to store curiosities, questions, and ideas that help students develop their understanding of science concepts.

A strong component of any presentation for teachers includes great resources, and our presenters shared many, most relating to science and social emotional learning. Those resources were augmented by the SEL success stories shared by Katrina and Amanda--proud moments of students working together to solve their own problems. We were reminded of the importance of giving students time and space to solve their own problems. And if we’re consistent and intentional about this, students will eventually learn how to solve other problems as well. So, SEL leads to stronger social justice education and civic engagement.

The final part of the presentation was focused on the discussion of a few scenarios, or dilemmas, in which we had to figure out appropriate reparations based on the harm that was done. The questions we wrestled with included: what can you do if you hurt someone? What are the appropriate reparations? We read a few different scenarios, each increasing in complexity, and brainstormed ideas for how to repair the harm done. The presenters emphasized that there is no single right or wrong answer, and the approach greatly depends on the student.

RESOURCES shared by Presenters
    • How to get started with notebooks
      • Website containing current events, leveled texts by lexile, and text sets
      • Subscription is optional

Other Odds & Ends:
  • Reminder that on the last day we will share our writing piece with the whole group. It is up to each person whether or not they’d like to share their piece in the group Google folder.
  • Sandra- a reservoir of coolness and inspiration:
    • Idea Potluck: takes place in a home in Wicker Park on the 3rd Tuesday of every month. Pay for ticket to watch. Performers are by invitation only. Each performance includes 8-10 people. Each person has 6 minutes to share an idea using the medium of their choice (song, poem, storytelling, etc.). Organized by Mac & Cheese Productions (who also organize “The Fear Experiment”. But the last one of these is this fall...sadly :( Also, connected to LOY- Life of Yes, which are workshops based on using improv.
    • This past Tuesday’s Idea Potluck served Mary Schmich as a dish. She is also the author of the Tribune article Jan sent us. Cool connection!
    • Idea Potluck is also great networking opportunity. So go, watch, laugh, maybe cry, and get your network on!
  • Lauren- expert at fueling the body and soul
    • Grown Folk Stories: Storytelling opportunity. Takes place on the 3rd Thursday each month from 8-10pm at the Silver Room in Hyde Park. The purpose is to strengthen human connection. Your story can’t be scripted; you must share from the heart. Get there early, maybe bring a stool. And, BONUS, it’s BYOB :)
Our day wrapped up a little early, but there is no doubt that it was well-deserved. Not so fast, though. Because even though the exit slips were written and people were free to go, the library emptied very slowly, with many teachers continuing their conversations, plotting and planning, sharing ideas and resources, as is typical of this group that is anything but!

1 comment:

  1. I love the energy of our group. We truly are agents of change. Gandhi would be proud...