What if it is that simple…

New to reading or never commented on a blog? Click here first!

About 15 years ago I was in a school that gave a survey sort of test to the kids on everything from how much homework they had, to how often they took drugs, to just about every possible topic you could imagine.  One year I noticed a question that was something along the lines of “When you return from being absent, does anyone care?” As I walked the rows, I noticed that almost everyone marked “no.”  I am sure it was worded more formal than that, but that is what stuck in my memory.  From that day forward I tried really hard to remember who was absent each day and to make sure I acknowledged them the next day, even if it was just a simple “How are you feeling?”  I wanted them to know that they were missed.  That question also made me reflect on what type of environment I was creating for the kids.  Was it an environment that they would miss?

I started trying to “build” an environment that they would miss, and one that would miss them.  I thought a lot about the way my class “felt,” from walking in the door, to being asked a question, to how does it feel when you have to stand front and center and to make a presentation.   When there was an announcement of a schedule change and the kids found out my class was eliminated I wanted to hear an audible groan.  When there was a schedule change and they find out that my class was first…I didn’t want to hear an audible groan.  I would like to think that  my class has become more than just “social studies” on the schedule for them…something bigger…I would like to think that it has its own special persona.  But back then it was a bit schizophrenic…or maybe the personality of the class became a bit too eclectic, a bit to scattered.  It was more than social studies, but what was it?  Could I name it?  What was “the sentence” for my class?
(please watch video–it’s 2 minutes)

Two questions that can change your life from Daniel Pink on Vimeo.

I would like to throw it back to you…what is “the sentence” for your class?  I am trying to figure out what mine would be.  I am thinking of adding that question to the end of the year evaluation I give to the kids.  Right now based on past evaluations and emails,  I would go with “A safe place to be yourself.”  I have been preparing my session for NELMS entitled “First Day of School.”  In it I am reproducing my first day.  In the beginning I talk about my room as being a different place, a special place.  One in which you can be yourself, and are all connected.  I can kind of picture a bumper sticker with that sentence hanging above my door in the fall.

My daughter’s coach made an interesting observation after practice this morning.  He mentioned how it’s great for kids to be apart of a team.  It gives everyone a place to feel like they belong.  It gives them a sense of safety, it gives them a place to look forward to going to each week, a place that if they don’t go they know they will be missed, a place where they are needed.  Does that describe your classroom…your school?

Our grade is currently in a debate over whether or not to institute block scheduling next year.  I don’t like it.  I want to see my kids everyday. I want them to come to our special place everyday.  I know block scheduling is supposed to be better for academics, but how many points on some standardized test is worth it?  I know which I would choose if I had a choice between seeing my own daughters for one hour per day or two hours every other day.

I know that sometimes creating that sense of belonging takes second place to academic achievement.  I know that sometimes the rush to squeeze in the curriculum doesn’t allow us to pause, and just simply say a sincere good morning, how are you, and a small block of time to listen to their answers.   Sometimes academics takes time away from building trust, the trust that allows them to feel safe and be themselves…the trust that allows everyone in class to open and expose themselves.  The trust that allows everyone to laugh together, whine together…the trust that allows for tears to be shed, and big rounds of applause to occur when six months after school has started that one stinking kid who you just could never get to talk in class volunteers to present first.

I know that there are people who read this blog, and people I work with that might consider everything I write here is a waste of time.  Folks have told me flat out “You are not supposed to be a guidance counselor.”  Others have insinuated that spending time developing trust and allowing them to “be themselves” doesn’t prepare them for high school or the real world…

My daughter’s coach finished up talking to me by saying something that really hit me.  Last week our community was rocked by the disappearance of a 12 year old girl.  She was missing for three days and was the object of an intensive local law enforcement and FBI search.  It turned out that she had run away and was staying in an abandoned building down the road from her house.  My daughter’s coach said that if she was apart of a team, if she had a place where she felt like she belonged, a place which gave her a sense of safety, a place she looked forward to going to each week, a place where she knew that she would be missed, and a place where she was needed…maybe she wouldn’t have run away.  I know it is probably more complex than that, but it did make me wonder…

What if it wasn’t more complex…

What if it was that simple…

Hey Mr. Bogush,

I just want to thank you for being such a special teacher to me. Before I went into your class I was kinda depressed. Bullies had gotten to me. I withdrew myself from everyone but my friends (few of which were on the team). But when I came into your classroom something clicked and I knew I could be myself. Every other day, despite the bullies that still bothered me I opened myself up in your classroom, and slowly I opened myself up outside your classroom too. By the end of the year I had discarded my protective aura of lonliness that I had created for myself and had opened up and even made some new friends. Heck, I even got a girlfriend. Thanks to you I learned to express myself and not give a flying (insert curse here) about what the bullies said. Before 8th grade I didn’t know what wanted to be when I grew up. But now I’m pretty sure I want to be a teacher.

Thank You.
(printed with permission of author)

What is the sentence for your class?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *