Star of the Week

“…structure begins to be revealed and will soon be carved in stone…a ruling class will notify others of their acceptance, and the outsiders learn to anticipate the sting of rejection.” –V.G.Paley
The quote above caught my attention immediately. Feeling a painful thirst for the meaning behind this phrase, I drank in the opening passage, honing in on the words sting and rejection. They play so well together I thought; I also noted the knot in my stomach while reading them. This guttural reaction surprised me, and then it didn’t. Vivian G. Paley speaks of the very present and worrisome part of life: rejection. I want to address the issue of rejection to my students. I will ask them what should the rule be when we play? I hope they will come up with something clear and bright like Paley’s, You Can’t Say You Can’t Play.
This understanding can come from classroom norms, like doing a Star of the Week. A star of the week will share about them once a day all week. Monday is interview day (the class interviews the star), Tuesday is favorite book day and so on and so forth. The whole week students will write a letter to the star (incorporating letter writing and reading) and on Friday the star will pick a favorite letter to read aloud to the class and draw the next star of the week out of a jar.
This helps stave of rejection because the students will be learning about one another and contributing to the classroom community. Part of student rejection stems from misunderstanding and not knowing one another. Star of the Week not only incorporates reading writing standards for students but opens them up to their classmates and classroom community, bridging the gap between acceptance and rejection.

Making Connections

I recently watched a magnificent TED Talk by the ever engaging Rita Pierson in her presentation Every Kid Needs a Champaign one of her points is that teachers need to connect with students. To champignon students we must respect them, listen and most of all understand them. This, to me, has been the anchor that sets the tone of what kind of teacher I want to be. Working with children as a new teacher with be stormy at times and choppy at best with rare bluebird sky moments. I am not being negative, quite the contrary, I am setting myself up to not burn out like so many do their first couple of years as a new teacher. I am beginning to realize that my love of children, the joy of learning new things with them, and relishing in the “cute” things they say will not be enough to fuel me in my career quest. I will have to dig deep within myself and hold back what I want my students to understand and focus on understanding my students as individuals first.
This seems easy to any right minded adult – respecting another human being through conversation and understanding. But for whatever reason it is hard to think this way with children. Yes, they are immature compared to their teacher in terms of physiology, and psychologically. But does this mean we cannot connect with them from a place of understanding and respect? If all children felt this from teachers, I am more than sure they will be open to what the teacher wants them to understand in the classroom. Connection is a vital concept for teachers, and the root of creating connection grows from the simplest of seeds: kindness.
Vivian Gussin Paley, speaking at the 92Y Wonderplay Conference 2008, reminds us that the most important aspect for a new teacher is not the curriculum, but that we must be kind to each child. We must connect with them, and let them know we respect them through conversation and the kind of play and talk they want to have. Paley stresses that this (above her infamous “Play” practice) is the most precious lesson new, and experienced teachers can share in the professional education world. If educators (new and experienced) focus on being kind to their students, the connection will follow.