It is 8am, I am standing outside my classroom door high-fiving students as they arrive at school. For many of my students school is a struggle. I am at the door with a smile on my face every morning, and before every class, to try my best to make them feel welcome. If you were standing near me you would hear me asking about their morning or day while we chatted. You would also hear me reminding each student to grab their Organized Binder and open to our Kick-Off, like we do every day, to be ready when we start class. I do this consistently, every day, so much so that my students beat me to my words and repeat my reminders before I can get them out.
When any of us start something new, especially when there are others around who can see and hear us, we have at a minimum a tinge of discomfort and at most, fully manifested anxiety. Hopefully, overtime, we learn how to do or how to be with the newness, and eventually our anxieties quell. For many of my students this is how school feels at the start the year, for some the uneasy feelings never subside. I believe this is, in part, due to the fact that many students don’t know how to “do” school.
Pause for a moment and try to remember something you did that was new and it made you uncomfortable. Hopefully there was someone there to encourage or guide you with specifics, because when things are scary it makes all the difference. I can remember my first time snowboarding. The day stands out in my memory, the cold mountain air, my excitement, the color of my snowboard. But what I remember most is looking up at the chairlift and feeling really nervous. When snowboarding you keep your front foot in the binding and take the back foot out to walk, or hobble to get on the chairlift. It is pretty tricky at first. Fortunately, I had my big brother with me. He gave me pointers to follow and I hobbled over with him and waited for the chairlift bench to pick us up. When it arrived, we sat down, and off it took us up the mountain. Phew! Unfortunately, that was only part 1 of the chairlift experience, we still had to get off at the top of the mountain. The entire ride up the mountain my brother coached me on how to get off the lift with specific steps. Basically, you have to put your back foot, the one that is loose, on your snowboard, step off the moving chairlift, and ride down a short hill where you can stop and then secure your back foot in the binding. If you have ever tried it you know well that almost everyone routinely crashes when learning this dismount. As we approached the top of the mountain I could feel my fear rising, there was no turning back at this point, I remember trying my best not to think and just “do” what my brother told me. Then there was that moment when he said, “now”. I stood up, hopped off the chairlift, put my loose foot on the board, and glided down to safety.
I was scared but I had my brother. He gave me tangible steps to follow to be able to complete the task through my fear. Without him I am not sure I would have gotten on the chairlift in the first place. The same is true for many of our students. School is uncomfortable and scary. They may not say it and they show it in many different ways. However, they have us, their teachers, and that can make all the difference. One of the reasons I begin every single day with the “Kick-Off” in Organized Binder is to give my students tangible steps to follow. Every time students enter my classroom they know to give me a high-five, grab their Organized Binder, find their assigned seat, and open to the Weekly Lifeline. Regardless of how they feel, or how they experience school, they know that in my class they have steps they can rely on to successfully engage just like I did when I jumped off that chairlift the first time. I like how Chip and Dan Heath say it,
Ambiguity is the enemy. Any successful change requires a translation of ambiguous goals into concrete behaviors. In short, to make a switch, you need to script the critical moves.Switch, How To Change Things When Change Is Hard
How do you guide your students? How do you script the critical moves? What are some of the tangible steps your students rely on. I’d really like to know, please share by leaving a comment.