I say love is central, and it trumps all other aspects we could possibly consider.
When I say I love my students, I mean that I am seeing them for who they truly are, appreciating and accepting them right there in that space. My love for them isn’t dependent on their cooperation or compliance. It’s not affected by their academic performance. Some take longer to get to know than others, and so it follows that some take longer to love than others, but love comes … always.
It comes from my curiosity about how they operate in the world, what they think about life. It comes from watching their valiant efforts, day in and day out, to overcome limits and stretch their abilities. It comes from honoring the risks they take to be honest and forthcoming with one another. It comes from noticing them testing the community waters for safety, and then, finding it consistently secure, extending themselves to others in new and wonderful ways.
And as I love them, they have a model for how to love and accept others. One day, when a boy in our class announced in dismay that he’d just accidentally wet his pants, the class simply heaved a collective, sympathetic sigh. “Ohhh.” Not a single person laughed. A soft conversation began about how these things happen sometimes to probably everyone. He left the room to change, and it was never brought up again.
When the most introverted girl in our class got up in front of the group to excitedly share about her discovery working with the electricity set, her classmates honored her with rapt attention and compliments for speaking in front of the group. They recognized this important moment for her. They accepted her for who she was and were able to appreciate the great risk she was taking in that moment.
Without this love, there is no safe place to take these risks. Without taking risks, we stagnate. Even worse, we develop unhealthy coping mechanisms to protect ourselves from the pain we feel at not being able to express ourselves fully; at not being seen fully. These coping mechanisms look suspiciously like the “behavior problems” that teachers and schools spend so much effort to punish, diagnose, medicate, and remediate.
Our schools are filled with children; children separated from their families for a large chunk of the day. How can we not acknowledge the vital importance of love in their school lives? Do we really think that for those six hours of the day, love can be suspended and they won’t be affected by it?
I’m not saying all we need is love… but it truly does need to be the all-encompassing field within which we do this very important, very sacred work of caring for our world’s children.
What do bearded dragons and guinea pigs have to do with student initative? At Xara Garden School, well ... actually a lot. Here is another documentation piece, this one from early in April, highlighting the amazingness that is my first and second grade group of kiddos.
She and M surveyed the class to see who had which kinds of pets. They were careful to screen out any pets that were known to cause allergic reactions for our many sensitive classmates. The two discussed organizing the pets by category. For instance, mammals in the science area, reptiles on the bookshelves, amphibians in the language area, etc, and they worked out a plan that included everyone’s pets. However, when the big day arrived, the size of the travel habitat ended up having a greater bearing on where the pets were placed.
When it was finally presentation time, B drew names from the name bag, and one at a time, each person carried their pet container to the meeting space and shared some facts about their pet. The class asked questions, and then, at the owner’s discretion, pets were passed around for viewing, petting, or holding. The kids were very respectful of the sensitive ears and potential nervousness of the pets, and were very quiet and gentle while handling them.
Once again, initiative, empowerment, curiosity, and teamwork rule the day in the Rainbow Garden class.
On Tuesday, E, J, and D experimented with a cool, old electrical set donated by one of our parents. The directions weren’t very kid-friendly and my electrical knowledge wasn’t going to be much help, which worked out just fine. I wanted the kids to explore the set and see what they could come up with on their own.
After some experimentation, they shared their process with the class:
E: First, we started out, and D said to do the cover. J’s idea was to do the directions. Then we tried using all the pieces and it didn’t work.
J: I followed the directions. I had the idea for the green ones touching everything so we wouldn’t have to use the little pieces.
E: Then she followed the steps after she found the pieces.
J: We wanted to make it safer, because the batteries got hot.
E: That’s why I didn’t touch it.
(At this point, others joined in to offer their thoughts.)
M: Maybe to have it not burn, you could put something on the top.
E: How the batteries got hot was that the light was on and lights are hot.
J: Maybe it burnt us because it’s a circle.
C: If it keeps going round and round in a circle and it keeps burning you, you shouldn’t do it again.
After just one hour of free exploration, the kids were closing in on some key understandings (and misunderstandings) about electricity and circuits. With more concrete exploration, their understanding of these concepts will continue to evolve, without ever receiving an abstract explanation from grown-ups.
An additional note for those of you not familiar with my class: student E was so excited about her discoveries that this typically reticent and quiet classmate was bursting to share her ideas with the entire class. It was a delight to see!