Who is the teacher that made a difference in your life? Is there a name that comes to mind? A grade? A particular class where you were recall being different at the end of the school year, and for the better, all thanks to a teacher who took the time to help you grow?
Teachers do not always know the impact they have on students. School years end, students move on to other classes, other schools. Educators may wonder if they have made any difference at all in a particular child's life, especially the kids that are experiencing trying circumstances. Sometimes those challenges are beyond the classroom. Ever tried studying while your hungry? Or taking a big test when you are worried about a parent no longer in your home? Other times, these challenges are in the form of different learning needs. Children do not all learn at the same pace and in the same ways, as is the case with Mrs. Herbst's class. These are all real examples of circumstances students face that teachers must teach through.
The best teachers prepare us for academic success and for success in life!
Mrs. Herbst, teacher at Haskell STEAM Magnet, is one of those teachers. Sure, she wants her students to be excellent writers. She wants them to be confident in math. She instilled a love of reading in her class by reading aloud the entire Captain Underpants Series this school year to her class.
She cares about their success in life as well. She wants her students to have good manners. She reminds them that, in life, in order to be successful, manners and courtesy will help you to go far. "Did you forget to keep your hands to yourself?""Did you hurt a friend, even by accident?" Mrs. Herbst asked her students to stand, face each other, offer a sincere apology and offer a handshake. We witnessed this multiple times over the course of our 5 weeks in her classroom, as elementary school kids can take a long time to learn to keep hands to themselves. But apologizing? Some of us don't learn to do that well, even as adults. We know that the life skills Mrs. Herbst's students learned this year will serve them well as they move on.
Meet the child where they are.
Another thing we saw Mrs. Herbst do is meet each child where they are at academically and emotionally. She has to coordinate several schedule changes a day to get kids to their different leveled math class and reading groups. She paired "star readers"with friends who needed extra support in reading. We know teachers have to be adept at doing this dance every single day. It's a tough job! It's hard even when students are cooperative and helpful.
So, imagine our surprise when we encountered a student in Mrs. H's class who simply was not inclined to participate with his class in anything - especially making a podcast. At every corner, he was adamant: the answer to every directive was, "No."
At first, Betsy and I thought it was us. We were strangers in his class, after all. But, as the weeks went on, we learned that "no" was this student's answer to everyone all day long. When he had a turn on the microphone during the recording session, he kept insisting that he did not want anyone to hear his recording. He even sabotaged his own recording by turning up the gain; a move that we had told the students would make their voice recording unusable. When a fellow student took a photo of his artwork on a Connectopod camera phone, this student yelled, "Delete that photo! I don't want anyone to see my artwork without my permission." And when it was time for him to leave class to practice for an upcoming school performance, he never wanted to go. It got to the point where he had been excused from participaitng in the school performance.
Betsy and I were frustrated, but not because he was telling us "no."
We were frustrated because we knew this child had such a great view of the world, and yet, he was reluctant to share his unique POV with others. How would we get through to him, we wondered?
The Party's the thing.
The last meeting with Mrs. H's class took place on a Thursday. We arrived with cookies, juice boxes, and a blue tooth speaker. It was a listening party! This class listened to their podcast show not once, but twice! They loved it, and cheered on their classmates when each of their parts came up. It was so much fun to witness. We gave our students a chance to use our Connectopod camera phone one last time to capture images of their teacher, friends, and classroom. They took turns passing the phone around, and it ended up in the hands of our reluctant student.
And then, he started directing.
First, he coordinated a slow-motion running scene with Betsy. Then, he instructed fellow classmates to dance and fall on his command. He chose the camera filter, and had students re-do moves until he was satisfied he had captured the shot.
As our class party came close to ending, the students took their seats. With a few minutes left before lunch dismissal, our newfound director, with zero prompting from us, went around the classroom to interview his peers on their experience with Connectopod. These were the same children he had clashed with in the prior weeks. He had been upset with them for not keeping their hands to themselves, and for not listening to him when he spoke. Now, as director, he was more patient and forgiving with his peers. He used his new role to make his classmates look their best. If one made a mistake while speaking, he gave them a second chance to say just what they wanted to say so they could tell their own class story just right. Check out his work here:
Mrs. Herbst and I watched this from the side of the classroom. We had found his role - finally! This child is a director. He was not content to be the focus of attention, or the subject of a show. But, hand him the reigns to the production, and this child blossomed! He had been trying to tell us all along, but he didn't have the vocabulary to do so. Now, we finally understood.
A place for every child.
One of the things we pride ourselves on at Connectopod is finding a role for every student in every group. Some kids are natural performers, others want to learn the production side. Because of our time constraints in this particular class, and due to the fact that this was the youngest group we had ever worked with, we wanted to focus the kids on storytelling. We would edit the final piece, meaning we would not be teaching this group much editing.
This experience has affirmed what we have done for a long time - and that is identify students' strengths and interests early so they get the most out of their Connectopod experience. We've crafted games in our curriculum to do just that.
Thankfully, Mrs. Herbst is the type of teacher who meets a child where they are at. Once she witnessed this student's affinity for being behind the camera, she called him over and offered him a compromise on the school performance. She thought he could still be a part of the show by recording it from the front row using one of our cameras. "Would you like me to see if it's possible?" asked Mrs. H.
His reply? "Yes."