I recently started reading The Wild Card by Hope and Wade King (and I love it!). The book offers seven steps to an educator’s creative breakthrough and is rooted in the concept of achieving student engagement. As if I wasn’t already sold on the concept before starting, the book cut straight to my heart in Chapter 1, paragraph 1 as it described the inevitable, inequitable “luck of the draw” that impacts all of us.
“Think about it: Children don’t have control over their daily lives and the dynamics of ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ that shape their early experiences. They are dealt a hand that includes their parents — supportive, neglectful, indulgent or absent — and their socioeconomic status. The luck of the draw determines the neighborhoods they live in and the schools they attend. A roll of the genetic dice shapes the characteristics and personality traits that affect learning: gender, intelligence, attention span, resiliency, self-discipline, and talents.” (King 5–6)
As educators, we have little to no control over the classroom hands we are dealt either — will we have the magic combination of students that play well together and soak in our every word? Or will it be a year when every student is carrying the burden of broken home life, poverty or mental health issues? Maybe you work in a district where you’ve never seen a version of the former and every year is some variation of the latter. There are so many variables outside our control — what our rosters look like, who our administrators are, what resources we can access, and so on. But it’s important not to let ourselves believe we’re more powerless than we truly are.
With St. Patrick’s Day coming up this weekend, it’s a cute time to talk about luck and to let ourselves dream about pots of gold at the end of proverbial rainbows. But I’d rather start thinking about luck as something we make for ourselves. Not only will it change the way we approach our students every day and every year — no matter who’s on the roster — but it will also model a mindset for our students that will allow them to recognize the circumstances they can control.
Start by listing the things you have access to or control of in your school or classroom. Think: physical resources, Internet access, classroom aides or parent volunteers — even planning time. Make a list, make a spreadsheet, make big pile in the middle of your room, whatever makes sense to you. Know what you’re working with.
Taking inventory is more than just an organizational strategy; it’s also an exercise in gratitude. Telling someone to count their blessings may seem a trite response to serious circumstances, but research shows that practicing gratitude is more than just an attitude adjustment — it can literally change your brain, which can make you healthier and more productive!
Once you know what you have to work with, it’s time to think about what you can do with it (that you’re not already doing). In the daily grind of standards and testing, we are apt to lose sight of opportunities for innovation that are totally within our power and right in front of our faces!
In The Wild Card, Wade talks about teaching concepts through songs he writes and sings to his students. Hope turns her classroom into sets, like a poetry picnic with the kids sitting on blankets on the floor. A former colleague of mine used to break his classes into tribes that had weekly competitions related to unit he was teaching. There were various incentives at the end of the unit for the winning tribe. I used to make up hand/arm/body motions to help students remember key terms or events in the lessons I taught. I know of several teachers who have “sister classes” in other states or countries, and these classes meet periodically via Google Hangouts to learn about another part of the country or world.
We may often feel that our students don’t hear us, but I promise you that they see us, and the behavior we model matters deeply. Whether your students come from privilege or poverty, it’s important for all of them to understand the importance of “making their own luck.” If you model an attitude of powerlessness and resignation, they will see it. And if they perceive their own situation as more dire than yours, why shouldn’t they believe they are also powerless? But if you demonstrate an ability to make the best of any situation and a belief that you are in control of your own destiny, you make it possible for them to believe the same for themselves. In taking inventory and taking charge, you are modeling gratitude, creativity, and resourcefulness — all critical skills to surviving and thriving in the world.
Creating Solid Gold
Whether you feel like you do or not, you have enough resources at your disposal to make your own luck — your own good luck, your own great luck. And having a teacher like that makes students lucky too. Their lives outside of school may be less than golden, but by your influence there’s a chance that students might actually be able to access — or create — that elusive pot of gold by their own determination.
This week’s blog post was written by Teacher Advocate Risa Fadenrecht.