Sunday, January 19, 2014

Seek first to understand...

Last Monday night I got home from the 4th and 5th grade Spelling Bee and went in to read to my boys. We were on the verge of finishing Wonder by @RJPalacio.  Usually I read a chapter, and tell them good night. But on this particular night it was 9:30 before I realized it. We were having great conversation about the end of the book.  I was glad I chose to read the book to my boys. I knew going in that my oldest could read it on his own and that my youngest was likely to hear the story in 4th or 5th grade, but I wanted to read it with them.  I'm glad I did because it gave us a chance to stop and reflect on situations that arose in the story.  For example, towards the end, Mr. Tushman, the Principal at Beecher Prep, is giving his graduation speech and he gets to the point that I absolutely love.  He reads from a book that talks about making one new rule for the entire world.  The new rule would be that, "We are all kinder than necessary."

Now think about this- really think- "kinder than necessary".  How great would our world be if we were all kinder than necessary?  I talked with my boys about how we could be kinder than necessary.  I gave simple and complex examples.  But in the end it comes down to understanding other people's stories. We must seek first to understand...

This made me reflect back to when I was in middle school.  The story begins on the bus.  (Sidenote - not a lot of good things ever happened on the bus...just sayin'.)  Almost all bus rides felt the same.  I remember the cool, brisk mornings waiting at the end of the driveway with my younger brother.  We would take tiny little pebbles and try to bounce them between the yellow lines in the road.  Memories.  I also remember that I was a creature of habit on the bus.  I tried to always sit by the heater... I liked to feel the warmth.  Most bus rides were spent either reading my sporting news magazine, staring out the window or chatting with someone about sports.  I didn't like the bus, but I didn't despise it either.  Each day the route was the same.  We'd get picked up, we'd ride around the lakes and then turn down Maitland & Skyline Drive.  These two roads were littered with houses on both sides.  As we turned past Skyline and onto Maitland, we always came to a nice, two story home that looked kinda tan and white.  The house had a fence and the two boys would always get on and sit towards the front.  I knew them, but they were both younger, and I just kept to myself.  Each day the older brother, who needed assistance with walking and moving, would sit by the window and he would repeat a phrase.  He would say, "81...9 times 9 is 81...81...9 times 9 is 81...81...9 times 9 is 81."  Tim repeated this for the majority of the bus ride.  You can only imagine how that went over!  Tim was mocked and teased, and you name it, he heard it.  Quite frankly I found his repetition to be a bit humorous. Sure the repeated saying would get annoying, but I really thought it was funny.  Tim's brother, Dale, almost always sat near him or with him.  I could tell he was angry.  He defended his brother and seemed to carry a chip on his shoulder.  He would confront kids and yell.  I rarely interacted with him. I just minded my own business.

This pattern went on for years.  Then on an unseasonably warm day in March I met some friends for pick-up basketball and to watch March Madness games on television.  We hung out for hours, we laughed, we ate tons of food and we just played basketball.  Then we went down to the basement and watched a game.  During one of the timeouts, my friend Derek began making fun of Tim.  Keep in mind, Tim wasn't there.  He was mocking him and trying to be funny.  At first we all chuckled, and then Derek's mom walked in.  She got just a glimpse of what was occurring and she said, "Are you making fun of Tim?"  Derek didn't respond, but then his mother sat down and explained Tim's issues. She explained to us what mental retardation was (Nowadays we hardly ever use that term, we usually say developmental delay).  Derek's mom explained how he was born with this and some of the challenges he faces now and will face for the rest of his life.  As I listened and learned Tim's story, I began to feel like a jerk.  I thought of the many times that I did nothing.  I thought about Tim's brother and how his brother tried so hard to stick up for him.

From that point on we were much kinder to Tim.  We said, "hi" to him and when people would begin to tease we would often say, "that's not cool".  Years passed.  We got to high school and the bus was no longer something we rode.  Every once in a while I would see Tim and I would say "hi".

Then several years later I became a 5th grade teacher.  During my third year one of my teaching partners got a student-teacher.  I kid you not, it was Tim's brother, Dale.  I enjoyed helping him with lessons and asking him how his brother was doing.  His demeanor was nothing like I remembered. He was confident, positive, polite and humble.  I'm glad I had the opportunity to work with him and to reconnect.  I'm pleased that he found a teaching position and is enjoying a successful and fulfilling career.

Everything changed for me when I began to understand Tim.  So often society judges, stereotypes and looks down on people that are deemed different.  When you take the time to understand, you typically empathize and feel for person.  I wish we had one rule for the entire world. I wish we would be "kinder than necessary". I wish we would take the time to understand before we pass judgement.  Think about yourself, have you invested the time, energy and effort to understand each one of your students?  I can honestly say that I learn every day. Just last week I went on two home eyes were opened very wide.  I needed the reminder to "seek first to understand..."

This week's big question:  How will you educate your students or your children to - seek first to understand?


Monday, January 20th:  Professional Development 8-3pm at Warner Elementary.
Tuesday, January 21st:  Hearing & Vision testing begins
Wednesday, January 22nd:  K-2 assembly 8:45
Wednesday, January 22nd:  TAT at 2:55
Thursday, January 23rd:  Hearing & Vision testing concludes
Thursday, January 23rd:  Lockdown drill in the AM
Friday, January 24th:  Half-Day for students, End of 1st Semester

* January is National Mentoring Month, if you see a mentor thank them for all of their dedication and commitment.  Our Kids Hope Mentors are true difference makers.

Articles Worth Reading:

Feedback: It Ain't Bad by +Tony Sinanis @TonySinanis

Promote Questioning in Your Classroom +Charity Preston @theOCBlog

7 creative Apps to allow students to show what they know +Terry Heick @TeachThought

Striking a Balance: Digital Tools & Distraction in schools by @mbteach @edutopia

Leadership lessons from "Let it Go"; not just a Disney song +Amber Teamann @8Amber8

How every family should celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day @teachmama

10 +1 lessons I learned the hard way by +Pernille Ripp @pernilleripp

Who's Your +1 +Kristen Swanson @kristenswanson

The Best List of Twitter Lists Ever +Tom Whitford @twhitford

Titles that have legs +Donalyn Miller #nerdybookclub @donalynbooks & @katsok

Teach Kids to use the 4-letter word shared by @edutopia

9 confessions for today... @ShutUpRun

10 Things Happy FAMILIES do differently +Marc Chernoff @marcandangel

Videos Worth Watching:

Inspiring and Touching! (5 min)

#Longshot (This is an amazing story about the journey of understanding.) (11 min)

Western was featured on the WILX segment of #SchoolsRule Check out the "Roller Coaster". (1 min)

MinecraftEDU using Minecraft in the classroom. (designed for Teachers and Students) (10 min)

1 comment:

  1. I love this book! I read it recently, at the recommendation of my 4th grader. Here is part of the conversation he and I had about it.