Preparing for a state of awe

Last year people around the country prepared for a massive solar eclipse. One that would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. People booked hotels in the line of totality over a year in advance. They planned watch parties and scouted out the best seats to watch this celestial event. We learned about eclipse glasses and the dangers of staring at an eclipse (including way too many pictures on Facebook of what happens to your retina when you look directly at the sun).

As a teacher we planned an entire days worth of activities including writing activities, science lessons, and a watch party. We ordered the special glasses for all of the students and staff in the building and went outside at the appropriate time. Thirty minutes before the event we went outside and set up blankets to watch the sky. The time came, we glimpsed the miraculous, and then we went back inside to reflect on what we had just witnessed. This was truly an awe-inspiring event.

I think about all of the work we put into being in awe of something. We were preparing to be amazed by this spectacular day, and it makes me want to recreate that in my classroom. It’s doesn’t have to be an every day event, otherwise it would be exhausting and lose it’s novelty. But a couple of times a year I plan out events just like that. I want moments in my class that will stick with students for the rest of their lives. I want events that will be unforgettable.

This year we’ve had two events already, a day where we took a trip on a plane complete with snacks and a flight attendant (who looks a lot like me).

We also took a trip up Mt. Everest complete with camp flags, hot tea, and sadly several students receiving frostbite for the rest of the day.

These are events former students come back and ask about. It’s not the riveting lectures about protagonists and antagonists or the deep discussions about the novels we are reading. It’s the moments that leave them in a state of awe.

How do you inspire a state of awe in your classroom?

Shout-out to Pastor Isaac Anderson for his talk at the Christmas Eve service for inspiring this blog post.

Teach students to advocate for themselves

I’ve responded to 8 parent emails over the past hour, responded to 5 more before I left school today, and have been fielding questions about student grades for the past two weeks. It’s that time of year. The semester is winding down and parents are wanted to ensure their child is going to pass my class.

This post isn’t to bemoan parents. I get it. I sent my own email today with a question for my son’s teacher. As a parent, we’re all just trying to figure out what is best for our children. It’s messy and there isn’t a guidebook on how to do this thing. Anyone who tells you they have parenting figured out, should share their secrets with the rest of us. In the meantime, barring any magic pixie dust that fixes all of our parenting woes, we are left to try to figure out how to help our kids be the best version of themselves and grow up to be responsible adults.

When the deadline of the end of the semester looms, parents panic. They see the last dwindling moments of possibility closing in on their child. To be fair, I know plenty of teachers (myself included) who finally start to get caught up on grading around this time of year. Yes, kids know what their grades are and should be able to share that with their parents, but they’re still adolescents and only listen to a fraction of what I say.

One things that’s been different this year is the number of student emails I’ve received. That’s because last week I tried something new. I emailed parents and asked them to have their child send the email. I asked them to sit with them and help them write an email to me. This is a trick I picked up coaching First Lego League robotics. At an FLL competition, the judges don’t talk to the adults. They talk to the kids. They’re polite about it, but if there is a question about the score or a problem with the board, they want the kids to have ownership of the discussion to solve it. That’s something I’m trying to help the parents of my students instill in their kids.

Here’s how I frame it. I want parents to help their kids write an email if they have a question. Then I tell them they can send me a follow up email if they wish and I’ll answer both emails. This helps parents pass the baton on to their kids, while still getting the full story, because, shocker, sometimes kids lie to get out of doing work. Parents want the full story before they have a nice long conversation about why an assignment wasn’t done. It’s always helpful when they can say things like “why didn’t you get this assignment done? You’ve had three weeks to work on it.”

Ultimately, I want to work with parents to help transition the responsibility of keeping track of grades from the parent to the student. I want to help them with that transition.