Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Whole Child

Our school's vision statement speaks about encouraging the unlimited potential of the whole child. So in these last few days of school I am thinking about what we have done to explore and encourage the talents of every child. Now that the school year is coming to a close, we are witness to many visual, oral, and textual displays of learning.

Just watching the children as they spend their last few days of recess, picnics and parties together, we can tell that they have become part of a learning community that values everyone, appreciates differences and respects the individual in all of us. They have learned to work and play together. Do we have room to improve? Of course, we do. There will always be emotional, behavioral and social bumps in the road, but if we can approach them with a set of beliefs about what we value, then we will be able to support the growth of the whole child.

Our Writer's Club had their final meeting and share. Proud parents attended the celebration and joined in recognizing every student as a serious and credible writer. I watched parents making an effort to talk to every children about their books and the writing process. A writing club advisor shared the story of one writer who told her that she just couldn't draw. The advisor wouldn't settle for that and began to show the student how to shade a drawing with colored pencils. The student's final story was accompanied with beautifully drawn illustrations colored with skill by the budding artist/illustrator. When we think of the whole child, we learn to value the growing self-identity of these students as learners as well as the skills of writing they learned. I think it was a moment that will be etched in student's memories as they develop a sense of identity as writers and illustrators. What has resulted from their passions reminds us of how we can support the whole child.

Our fourth graders shared individual projects they had worked on during the last few months of school. Because students chose their topics for research, they were so invested in the work. As I stopped to look at project displays, viewed electronic presentations and listened to students share what they had learned, I realized that it wasn't so much about the research and presentation skills they had learned but how these presentations were expressions of their passions. How can we encourage our students to bring passion to their learning? How do we respect those passions and encourage choices for the whole child?

During the last four days of school, we invite our students to participate in a Talent Show that is held at lunchtime. Children sign up to perform while their peers eat lunch. I am delighted by the respect and attention our students give the children who peform. But what we really discover is that children have passions and talents beyond the school day that we may not even know about. We watch dancers, gymnasts, singers, pianists and violinists as they share their talents with us. I am thinking that we need to find ways to showcase talents and passions early in the year and throughout the year. How else can we begin to understand and respect the whole child?

I think when we are commited to encouraging the whole child we remember to value and celebrate every child's passions. Tests and formative assessments can only tell us so much about a child. When we create communities of learning that value time, choice and passion for learning we can nurture and celebrate the whole child.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"High" and "Low"

Occasionally, I start a conversation with my son (who is now an adult) by telling him my "high" and "low" for the day. Each day, I can overcome the "low" by appreciating and celebrating the "high".

Today, my "low" is that there are not enough hours in the day to get done what I need to get done by the end of the school year. Most of the work is the "have to" kind, and I find myself wandering from my office to spend time with kids who will be gone (and missed) over the summer.

My "high" for the day was something I discovered on A Year of Reading. Mary Lee posted the text of a commencement speech at Smith College. One commenter mentioned that the video was worth watching so I searched and found it. I sat here in front of my computer consumed by the words so well spoken and so full of meaning for us all who spend our days in the classroom.

Take a moment to watch the video. It might just be your "high" for the day.


Saturday, May 17, 2008

This time of the school year can be so chaotic. How can we slow down enough to think about this past school year? What memorable moments can we bring to mind?

I took this picture last summer on our drive up the west coast of California. We found this spot on our journey through the Redwood Forest. Can I transport myself to this calm summer day? Can I close my eyes and feel the breeze?

This is where I want to be when I steal a few moments to think back on this school year. It seems like I never accomplish everything I set out to do. So I leave the school year with a measure of frustration but a resolve to do a better job next year. When I think about the small victories I can always picture a smiling child. And when I add up all those small victories I can see a wave of smiling faces. Children who discovered the joy of learning.