“Thank you for reminding me–if you had not reminded me yesterday, I might not have made it this morning. I didn’t feel like driving so early, but I came anyway.”
The first student came in 10 minutes early for our second Cogen meeting (which I described here, if you missed it) this morning. I already had the cinnamon rolls and double chocolate muffins and orange juice set out, John Legend playing on Pandora, and so I invited him in and we began chatting. Soon the others arrived. I thanked them for coming, and while they started eating, I reminded them of our rules:
- No one is special in this group–we all stand on equal footing.
- There’s only one mic. We listen to each other and don’t talk over each other.
- We all take responsibility for any actions that we agree upon for the good of our class.
I asked them to tell me how their first suggestion–having a five minute check-in at the beginning of class with a vent or a brag–went this past week. They told me that it was very positive–that it’s a friendly way of starting class, that while people come in scattered and separated, it served to pull us together as a group. They said it helped “smooth out the week.” I thanked them for the idea–it was totally theirs. I told them that it had gone so well with their class that I had begun doing it in all my classes. They seemed surprised and impressed that one of their ideas made it into all of my lesson plans.
They also told me these things:
There have been fewer times this week when you have had to call people down (including mostly me).
Class has felt better.
I wasn’t angry to be here.
It has felt like home.
I will be honest to say–that last one landed deeply in me. Class has felt like home. That’s what I really, really, really want. I told them so, and thanked them for the feedback.
For this week’s discussion, I asked them if there were something that all five of us might agree that any one of us could do that would make class a more positive experience. “That’s a tough one,” one of them said. Then, almost immediately, they began talking about how much liked brain breaks. I’ve made a concerted effort to collect and use some new ones this semester, and they noted which ones they like the best. I asked them if Brain Breaks had any effect on the rest of their learning during the period. They agreed that it did if for no other reason than it made them want to continue with whatever we were doing.
So, I shifted to Brain Breaks. I told them that I had planned one brain break for each day, usually for right after our first activity. Perhaps the thing they could do is to let me know if and when we needed a second one during the period. They immediately thought that was a good idea. I asked them whether that needed to happen out loud–meaning one of them would suggest out loud that maybe we needed a second brain break, or would it be better for them to communicate that silently to me with some sort of high sign. They thought about that for a minute and then one said: I think if we say it out loud, and you take the advice to do another brain break, that would come across a really cool to the class. That would be positive.
Done! Secretly, that’s what I was hoping they would say, but it needed to be their choice for their reasons. We all agreed that that would begin today as something they took responsibility for in making our class more positive.
My sense of better and their sense of better
In reflecting over the last week and this morning’s second cogen meeting, I realize that my sense of class being better is different than the students.’ I did think that this class was going better because of the five minute check in–so much so that I instituted it in all my other classes. Some part of me, though, still measures “better” by what makes me comfortable. That’s been the thorn in my whole teaching career. Those things, conditions, behaviors and outcomes that would have kept me comfortable have invariably not been the things that help students make progress in this language. This class still comes in at the end of the day–tired, rattled, anxious, depressed, mouthy, loud, and willing to stir each other up for no apparent reason. And, the five minute check in has curbed much of that and brought us together as a group of people trying to get things done. My cogen group helped me see this more clearly this morning and, hopefully, create some additional avenues for that reality to deepen.