Is it impossible?

Last night I started catching up on some time with some friends of mine – namely the doctors on Grey’s Anatomy.  I do not watch it to be intellectually challenged or to be inspired.

But there it is.  In the middle of my Mommy-escape time one episode really made me think and reflect on my teaching (something I was not looking to do at that time).  Imagine that?  You just never know where your inspiration is going to come!!

Throughout the episode a doctor (Dr. Amelia Shepherd) is giving a lecture series about the ground breaking surgery she will do on another character (Dr. Herman.)  A surgery to remove a massive brain tumor that no one but her believes is possible to remove.  And throughout the episode she is delivering a series of lectures about the upcoming procedure.

And the passion, the eloquence, the creativity, the connection she had to her topic – for that hour – made me want to learn about neurosurgery.  Made me believe I could!  Made me interested in something I never had thought about being interested in or thought I could be interested in.  Made the impossible sound possible – simply because she believed it so.

And I know it’s TV, but I thought “Wow!” “If for even 10 minutes a day I could teach with that passion, that conviction, what couldn’t I do with my kids.”

There is so much that we have to teach our kids that perhaps we think just is not age-appropriate -that it’s too rigorous, too complicated, too hard.  But if we approach it with that attitude we doom our lesson before we even begin.  We’re not giving them the chance to surprise us.  And nothing is more fun in teaching than to be surprised by what your kids can do!

I am not denying for a second that there are things that I feel like my kiddos are being asked to do that just aren’t developmentally where they are…yet.  Perhaps the standard is indeed too rigorous for most students, perhaps I have a group that even struggles with below grade level skills.  And it is incredibly frustrating and upsetting when you know that you are being held accountable for teaching something that you just don’t feel your students are ready for…yet.

But I really thought about the fact that if I go into it with that negative mindset before I even try, then my lesson is doomed before it begins.  It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I’ve lost my motivation to give my best because subconsciously, I think it’s a waste of time.  And certainly a positive mindset doesn’t mean that they are going to magically get it..yet.  But if I believe that they can’t before I even start, then they absolutely won’t.   It’s up to me to believe that today could possibly be “the day” if I just use the right approach or use the right tools.  That today is Yetday.

It’s up to me to see if I can try to give a Dr. Amelia Shepherd lesson and at least give them the absolute best chance I have.

I have to not expect the impossible, but expect that sometimes what we think is impossible turns out to be possible after all!

This blog post isn’t about making all kids reach some arbitrary standard, and it’s certainly not about kids not reaching that standard being the fault of poor teaching.  This is simply about not going into something with a “this isn’t going to work” attitude.

Before she started on her surgery she struck a superhero pose, stating that she had heard that it gives you confidence.  (A fact I confirmed from a TED blog).

So – Next time I set out to teach improper fractions to 8 year olds I’m going get REALLY creative, strike a super hero pose, believe I can do it, and see if they surprise me.

True Grit part 2: My little guy & the “big test”

In my last blog post – I talked about having Grit...

My kids had to show more a lot of grit with the new test.

And I have one sweet, eager to please friend… that sometimes struggles with reading.

He fell apart during day 1 of Reading.  Got stuck, didn’t know what to do, and just went around in circles.  I could see the panic in his eyes.

I rubbed his back every now and then, and slipped him an extra couple of mints.  I did everything the rule book would allow.  Which wasn’t much.  It’s all I could do.

But I had to face the truth – they were all falling apart a little bit.  This was the their first time ever with high-stakes testing and it showed.  Almost two years of teaching the SAME strategies, and about 2 kids used them.  I wanted to just melt.   I felt I had failed my students.  I had armed them with a tool box full of tools that they didn’t know when to use during go-time.  And this was only Day 1.

I needed to have grit.

So – I knew we needed to debrief and reflect – as much as the rule book would allow. Which wasn’t much.  But it’s all I could do.

Often we are often tempted to ask kids things like “how do you think you did?” – and they honestly don’t really know.  Or  “Was it hard/easy?” which doesn’t really allow them to reflect and build.

So instead – I posed these questions to them to reflect on

  • “What strategies did you use?”  (they should have used reading the text with a pencil, close reading the questions, rereading the text/looking back in the text to confirm answer choices,  eliminating clearly wrong answer choices, creating a graphic organizer for their writing on scratch paper).
  •  “Where there any strategies that you didn’t use that you should have?”  “If not .. why?” 
  • “Did you manage your time okay?” “Did you have too much time left over or not enough time?”
  • “Did you use most of the all the space for writing (or did you run out of room?)  If you didn’t use all the space, why not?”

I even shared these questions with parents in an email

I started out the next day before our testing session with the usual pre-test pep talk, and I pulled a note from the sports world and told them “close your eyes, imagine using your strategies. What does it look like?  What are you doing?”

And later that morning we began testing.  And I did see a big improvement overall. Perhaps I hadn’t failed them after all.  Between getting that first day under their belts, the self-analysis, and the visualization – they were doing a much better of applying their strategies. They were showing their grit.

But this really made my heart soar.  My little guy – my struggler from the day before, started out the test by listing all the strategies I had taught them that on his scrap paper.  He was so proud of his list.  He said it would help him if he got stuck.  And he used it.  And he finished feeling good.  He had a goal, he made a plan, and he knew what to do when he got stuck.

That was TRUE GRIT!