When we teach lessons, we need to be really clear about our desired outcome, even when the desired outcome isn’t clearly Common Core related.
Recently my coworker Jennifer received a donation of free t-shirts from a friend of hers. This donation was generous, as her friend offered to design the shirts with our students’ mascot, Shakespeare, on the front. It was pretty cool. Jennifer worried about how to hand out the shirts so that she didn’t hurt anyone’s feeling s about sizes and such, and because she is an experienced teacher, she worried that a few of the “cool” kids might not be impressed and let the other students know that this was not a cool thing, anointing the whole business as nerdy, geeky, and filled with cooties of uncoolness.
When the morning came to give the shirts away, most students were excited to get the t-shirts, and the shirts were politely received. Jenifer’s concerns were realized. A couple of students rejected the shirts, and a few students even refused to wear them. It created a ripple effect as news caught on that maybe the shirts might have nerd cooties. We were crushed. My coworkers were stunned and decided they just didn’t want to address the issue as they were feeling too emotional. I work with wise people.
Initially, I wanted to let my students know that their actions were cruel. I stifled that desire…thank goodness. What did I really want? What was my desired outcome? I wanted them to learn how to receive a gift. I didn’t really want to crush their little hearts, or damage the relationships I had built. I wanted them to learn how to receive a gift with grace.
I started with a story about the joy of giving someone a gift and how a gift giver gets a lift from bringing joy to someone else. I asked them if they ever received a gift they didn’t care for. Heads nodded around the room. How do you handle that? Based on their feedback (some said they would tell the person they didn’t like the gift), it was clear they didn’t know how to receive. I allowed them to discuss some feasible options. They came to the conclusion that they should thank the person for their thoughtfulness and keep the negative comments to themselves. It is not necessary to lie or gush over an unwanted gift, but acknowledge the thought that goes into the gift. I explained how excited their teacher was to make them happy, and perhaps they could return the happiness gift by thanking her for her efforts and thoughtfulness. The students took in this information without feeling cruddy; instead they were armed with new information. Some took it upon themselves to thank my coworker.
Later in the day, she told me how one of our students went out of her way to thank her for the work she put into getting the shirts. Jennifer told me she wanted to cry and hug the girl as she was the first student to thank her that day.
Yeah, I could have stomped on their little hearts, made them feel awful, but I’m glad the students and I had a positive learning experience. Also, the students improved their thinking and problem solving skills; sometimes Common Core comes in through the back way as students used collaborative skills to draw conclusions. The desired outcome….check and done.
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