Start With Heart - Denali - "The High One"

By now you should no doubt understand that I have a passion (some might say obsession) with nature and the outdoors.  I’ve come to consider myself a bit of a hiker and that, as Michael Matera says, “finding joy in the journey” is truly the best part of teaching and life.  Hiking for me is my time to reconnect, recharge, and reflect on life and the trail, both the physical one and the metaphorical trail of life.

This week’s post is the beginning of a 5 week in-depth look at my philosophy of teaching and learning, and it all begins with Heart.

Having a heart for your students is the most vital part of teaching.  Caring for kids more than content, skills, and assessments is best lesson you can master in teaching.  Get to know your kids by talking with them about their lives outside of school. Find out their interests, hobbies, and passions.  I know everyone tries to do this during the first few days, but my challenge to you is to keep it up throughout the year. There are endless “Get to Know You” icebreakers across the internet.  Some are activities that involve movement like the ever popular “Get on the Bus” where students offer their opinion on a choice of options by either “Getting on the Bus” (affirmative) or “Getting off the Bus” (Negative). The bus being represented by a tape line on the floor.  Others are simply worksheets that teachers can refer to throughout the year. I often will mix and match some of these activities, but my favorite is one I “stole” from Dave Burgess in Teach Like a Pirate: Play-Doh.  I give the students a can of Play-Doh, but tell them not to open it until I tell them to.  When I give them permission (usually after a few introductory comments & administrative tasks), I tell them only that I want them to make something that tells me the one thing they want me to know about them.  Then I let them build and I walk around and talk with the students as they work. In this time (usually about 30 minutes), I get to have 30 1-2 minute conversations with every student in the class and I get to know their biggest passion or hobby.  This gives me an instant connection with every student and I can use that passion or hobby to start conversations with them throughout the year.

Even if you don’t know anything about their passion, listen and let them teach you about it through those conversations.  Sometimes though you have to “fake it until you make it.” I recall one student who had a passion for skateboarding and I knew nothing about it!  So one weekend I noticed ESPN had a 30 for 30 episode on one of the first X-Gamers and he was a skateboarder! I normally wouldn’t watch that, but I remember that student that I was having a hard time connecting with and sat down and watched it.  I learned a lot about the skateboard culture and the next day I was able to talk with him about it. It wasn’t magic, and that student and I still had our struggles, but I always knew I could come back to skateboarding if I needed to start a conversation with him.

This year, my goal is to eat lunch in the cafeteria with my students whenever possible.  I want to get to know them outside of the classroom and show that I care about their lives beyond any assessment, content, or skill I teach.  I want to know them as people first. If you are authentic and connect with them from the Heart, then you’ve taken the first step toward transforming your teaching into a rewarding journey for both your students and yourself!

Summit Seeker(s) of the Week: In keeping with the lesson from today’s post, I’m shouting out the librarian at my former school, Taylor Inverarity. Taylor is truly someone who teaches from the heart first.  She gets to know the students as 6th graders at the Sixth Grade Academy, and then sees them grow over their middle school years in 7th and 8th grade.  In that time, she learns their passions, families, and often their concerns and fears. Students feel comfortable talking with her because she starts from the heart and not from authority.  I’ve never met anyone who can find a book for any kid, no matter their passion, and get them excited about reading it. In addition, she provides AMAZING support for teachers who utilize her expertise in research and use of sources to support their instruction in the classroom.  She is someone that cares about kids as people first, making her a true Summit Seeker!  Follow her on Twitter @inverarityt1