Riding the Wave

Waves_in_pacifica_1As teachers, we all need a mental happy place.  A place where we can close our eyes and take a quick mental vacation.  If you see me behind my
desk with my eyes closed for a second, I’m probably at the ocean.   Wiggling my toes in warm sand.  Sun warming my face and my soul.  And since it’s mental vacation – I have a fruity drink with a little umbrella that is served in tiki-inspired glassware.  And yes – I do have a good book.

It’s safe on the beach.  Not much to hurt me there – but that’s not where my kids are.  My kids are in the ocean.  In. The. Ocean.  It’s dangerous in the ocean, I’m not overly fond of the waves.   However, since that’s where my kids are, then that’s where I need to be too.

The waves do come.  Fortunately for me, I was given great advice by someone once.  First she said always keep your eye on the waves so that they don’t catch you by surprise.  Then she told me that when a wave comes you have 3 choices.  If you’re feeling scared, just hold your nose and dive under it.  Avoid it and stay below the surface.  It’s not glamorous, but it keeps you safe.   If you’re feeling confident and energetic – jump up and rise above it. Float along the top and you’ll land in exactly the same spot – letting it all pass beneath you.  You might even be able to keep your hair dry.

But if you really want an adventure – ride the wave and see where it takes you!  Let go, relax, and make the wave work to your advantage.  Have fun – it can be exhilarating.  Surfers surf for a reason!

But when you fight the wave or try to stand unmoving – you’re going to get knocked down. There is no fighting a wave – it will always win. It will exhaust you. It will beat you down into the ocean floor.  It is a force of nature and it will drown you.

The thing is – when I was given this advice, it had nothing to do with going to the beach and everything about life.

We as teachers have to be in the Ocean.  That is where our kiddos are.  We don’t have the luxury of sitting calmly on the beach watching safely with our toes (and heads) in the sand.  We have to be out in the water, eyes alert ready for the next wave and preparing ourselves as to how to handle it.  There are undoubtedly fights worth fighting, the storms that we have to brace ourselves against and fight – the tidal surges and tsunamis that threaten what we hold dear.  Fight those! With all your might.  But I’m just talking about the day to day everyday waves that chip away at us.

Everyday is a new challenge.  A new wave.  The question is – what are you going to do with it?   Because whether you get knocked down or not is up to you.



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!