Friday, October 9, 2015

Celebrate Random Acts of Learning

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We have little control over many circumstances in life as well as in the classroom—the technology suddenly goes on the fritz, a fire drill eats class time, students are grumpy. 

Then there are the times when the one thing I do have control over—myself—messes up. When I wrote my volleyball players’ numbers in the wrong order on the line-up sheet that I gave to the referee, and the team had to play the game in that confusion. It was a short game. We lost. My fault. When I asked 10th graders to preview the vocabulary list and write down the three least familiar words on a post-it note. The first time I saw sulle written down, I smiled at a student forgetting to write the last letter in sullen. But when that strange word sulle showed up on every list, I realized with chagrin the error was mine.  

Yes, we teachers mess up. We have bad days. But we are the single biggest influence in our own heads as well as in our classrooms. So for my own sake, as well as for my students’ sakes, I try to make a habit of looking for the good, celebrating it, remembering it. Usually in this space I reflect on what I planned and its learning outcomes. But it’s also important to collect and commemorate the serendipitous moments:
  • “I just finished the best book last night!” a student walked into the room before first period and gushed.  I made a conscious decision that this conversation was more important than being perfectly organized when the bell rang, so I turned away from my computer and we had a conversation about Tuesdays with Morrie. Afterward, the student sighed with a smile, “I still have that feeling of contentment that comes after reading a really good book.”
  • Concerned about the slow reactions of the volleyball players during a game, I had a sudden idea. At the next timeout, I said, “When the ball is on the other side of the net, you aren’t taking a break—you are always thinking, ‘Because of what’s happening now, where is the ball likely to go next?’ It’s like reading—you’re always making predictions.” At that, an 8th grader let out an audible gasp of epiphany. And became miraculously quicker when the game resumed.
  • Walking through the elementary hallway, I saw a boy twirling a stuffed shark by the fin. A girl challenged him, “What are you doing with a doll?” “It’s not a doll—it’s a plushy,” he retorted. It seemed to end the discussion. I told the story when I got to class to illustrate the power of vocabulary knowledge in controlling connotation. 
One of those moments can keep me smiling all week. So keep planning, keep using best practice, keep learning, collecting resources, and networking with colleagues…but also collect and commemorate the random acts of learning that come your way. That, too, will help yourself and your classroom stay positive.

What random acts of learning were you party to this week?

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