For months, I’ve seen Being the Change, by Sara K. Ahmed, in posts on social media. It immediately sparked my interest and I mentally noted that it may be something to check out. Then when the #cyberpd title was announced, I knew that reading this book with an online community would be a great addition to my summer plans. Of course, I invited some real life friends to join in as well. I have big plans for summer-an ambitious summer reading pile and visions of time to write. So far, my own kids eating up most of my summer…but I’m trying to sneak a few minutes in when I can!
About five years ago, I became certified as a Responsive Classroom Consulting Teacher. My mentor as a first year teacher, Caltha Crowe, was also a consulting teacher and spent so much time coaching me through every aspect of my teaching life. Looking back, that partnership was so important in shaping the core of who I have become as a teacher. The overall philosophy of Responsive Classroom (see the guiding principles below) was something that meshed with my own visions of a teacher and continues to shape my work every day. Even early on, my main dreams for my classroom community was to support growing kind people.
- Teaching social and emotional skills is as important as teaching academic content.
- How we teach is as important as what we teach.
- Great cognitive growth occurs through social interaction.
- How we work together as adults to create a safe, joyful, and inclusive school environment is as important as our individual contribution or competence.
- What we know and believe about our students—individually, culturally, developmentally—informs our expectations, reactions, and attitudes about those students.
- Partnering with families—knowing them and valuing their contributions—is as important as knowing the children we teach.
The reason I bring up Responsive Classroom in my post about Being the Change, is that so much Sara Ahmed’s work aligns perfectly with the work of Responsive Classroom…or of just fostering a RESPONSIVE CLASSROOM. I loved so much of what the book shared and found myself really connecting to chapter two, “Listening with Love”. In this chapter, Sara, seems to be putting into words some of my own thoughts. Teaching empathy and social comprehension can’t be captured in a curriculum. This is the work that comes from using our “strongest superpower in the classroom…kid watching. Make it about what the kids are doing and saying. That is, listen; don’t just wait to talk (xxvii).”
In the past, our district has tried to define the social curriculum. We’ve tried to write lessons and pinpoint times in the year that the lessons should be taught. I always struggled with this work because the social curriculum can’t be reduced to a handful of lessons. It is the work we do constantly throughout the school day. The social curriculum can’t just happen during Morning Meeting or during the district written lessons. As Sara said, “I can only sketch a blueprint and offer some tried-and-true suggestions and teaching moves. You, the expert in your classroom, will need to choose the moments and tools you’ll use to help your students build the skill of active listening (32).”
What I liked about chapter two, was that Sara attempted to show how this work could be woven across a school day. There was an emphasis on the work through literacy, which is a natural place for examining perspectives, connecting to our own identities, and for practicing active listening.
Some thoughts I’m still thinking about and hope to continue considering as I read more of Being the Change is how do we empower teachers to feel comfortable in choosing the “moments and tools” they’ll need to mentor (loved the use of mentor vs. teach) responsively. Trying the ideas in the book are a great starting place. But there is a subtlety in Sara’s writing, that invites us to do more than just “do the activities,” but to live this work each and every day.