At this particular moment in American history I am fiercely proud to be a teacher.
Because every single day in my classroom we actively practice cooperative and interpersonal skills as part of our regular routine.
This year we started with listing attributes of Teamwork and displaying them in the front of the room. Every day groups self-assessed their own efforts toward the effective use of teamwork skills; they gained points for good teamwork.
Now we are working on using Active Listening skills with group members. I picked this skill because after the last unit I had students fill out a reflection sheet to let me know where they thought they did well and where they needed to do better. Listening better was the clear winner in the “needs to improve” category!
Over the course of the year I will pick other skills to emphasize including, for example:
- focused attention
- having a positive attitude
- being willing to “share the air”
Earlier this week my students built remote operated vehicles (ROVs) to use later at a field trip to the Keyport Undersea Museum. At one point I realized a student was in the hall by himself, sitting crumpled on a chair. I went out to talk to him and discovered he was crying. I couldn’t get him to tell me why. Suddenly one of his teammates appeared and enfolded him, comforting him. Another arrived almost immediately and started to explain, “Wait, don’t feel bad! We liked your design. It was just too big to go through the diamond [an obstacle the museum sets up as part of the problem]. But we still used your design. We just shrunk it up!”
The boy was still crushed. He had every reason to be. He had toiled long and hard cutting all the PVC pipe pieces for the original design—and for a small kid, it was laborious work. Clearly, he felt like all his effort was for nothing.
By now his entire team was in the hall, all gathered around him, encouraging him. They talked about how great his design was. They talked about how they now needed a cool name for their ROV.
I left them alone, stepped back into the classroom, and watched them all still out in the hall.
They stayed with him for 15 minutes or more. They did not come back and work on their project until he was ready to come back and work with them.
That’s why I do what I do.
Yes, I teach reading and writing and math and science (obviously very cool science) and social studies (and cool social studies too). Art. Public speaking. The things that get grades on the report card.
But first of all, I teach civilization.
The reason public schools exist is so our country has an informed electorate. That’s why we teach history and civics and how to examine multiples sides of issues.
(That’s why one of my exit slips might be “Who—besides you—had the best idea in the discussion today? What was it?” or “Who changed your mind today? Why?”)
At a time when civilization—civil discourse, civility, civilized behavior—seems to be unraveling, when trash talk radio and “reality” television teach that the way to win is to be the loudest, the most obnoxious, the most aggressive and rude, I will stand in the doorway of my classroom and put my hand up and say, “No.” Not in my classroom.
In my classroom we give everyone a chance to speak.
In my classroom we listen to each other.
In my classroom compromise is not a dirty word.
In my classroom we do respect.
In my classroom we work together.