Illness got in the way of my plans to be a part of this #G2Great Twitter chat last Thursday night, which I had been so looking forward to:
We had just endured through six days of PARCC testing. For six days, my sixth graders trooped down to our cavernous all purpose room (along with every other sixth grader in our middle school), found their testing ticket among the rows of neatly set up laptops, followed instructions to log on and open their testing units, and proceeded to test for 110 minutes each day.
Each day of testing left them more irritable and moody than the day before; each day became a struggle to get them back into our classroom mode of reading, writing, thinking and talking together.
By the sixth day, Wednesday, they were done with sitting still, testing…and school. Thankfully, our last testing day coincided with beautiful Spring weather, and so we marched out of testing and made a bee line for the soccer fields: there was nothing to do but run screaming around the sun dappled field, and raise some sixth grade mayhem on a brilliant Spring afternoon.
The next day, Thursday, was tough going. There was a general sense of “testing is over, and we are all just DONE with school”. My kids were still restless, grumpy, hard to get focused, and hard to please. I set aside my plan book. We read aloud, we wrote, we talked a lot. Day dreaming and doodling was permitted. By the end of the day, I felt the strain of the past six days begin to ease. We were not quite back in the groove again, but we were getting there.
On Friday, I stayed home to take my husband to the doctor’s office. I wondered about those sixth graders back in Room 202, how were they managing? The plans I’d left for the substitute were made with my kids the day before: we had decided what we needed to work on – which projects to complete, how to write our Friday reading responses, the movie we’d be watching about the Underground Rail Road and why. Every time I glanced at the clock, I tried to imagine what was transpiring in our classroom, how were my kids getting on?
With this in mind, I turned to the Good to Great Storyify that Mary Howard had culled from the chat the night before. It was a rich and deep chat, as all Good to Great chats tend to be, but this Tweet stuck with me:
This idea of cultivating community is such essential yet difficult work; essential because kids can’t learn unless they feel heard and valued, but difficult because this work is accomplished only through so many incremental, every day steps, that it often seems invisible. Every day of working together is woven from so many interactions: some explicit, and some quiet and implicit – a smile here, a wink there, a thumbs up when needed, and a frown when it matters. There is no book to teach how to cultivate community, but you know when it’s there…you can feel it in your bones.
Cornelius’ words made me think about how vital this work is, and I loved his use of the verb “cultivate”, which Merriam Webster defines as: “to foster the growth of, to improve by labor, care, or study”. Cultivation takes time, it is intentional often quiet work. We cannot will a classroom community, we have to do the painstaking work of cultivating it. Sometimes the community feels as though it’s fraying around the edges (after six days of testing, for example), and sometimes it hums along without the outward appearance of any work. Sometimes we are present to enjoy the community we’ve come together to cultivate, and at other times we have to hope that it continues even though we ourselves, as the teacher facilitator) are not present (as I was not, on Friday). Sometimes we have to labor at it, even belabor the very notion of it, but it’s always worthwhile work, this work of cultivating community.
I celebrate that this weekend…and also the end of testing!