Today I am cross posting with Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge and DigiLit Sunday hosted by Margaret Simon. I invite you to visit both of these sites to read other posts.
Margaret has invited us to write about trust. There are some wonderful posts linked up at her site. I hope you'll have a chance to stop by and read.
Trust is the foundation of all relationships. We spend the first weeks of school building a safe community where students can take risks. I am reminded again and again how our community needs to continually be nurtured.
The majority of my fifth graders have chosen to write their Slice of Life stories in their journals. Since they weren't writing on their blogs, I knew it was important for them to have the experience of sharing their writing with each other in person. One afternoon in early March, I created an opportunity to share in small groups. As I explained what we were going to do, I noticed a hesitancy with some of the students.
"Do we have to?"
"I don't want anyone to see what I wrote. It's not very good."
I encouraged those who were worried to choose a piece that they were comfortable sharing, while also giving them the choice to not share. Once the room was abuzz with students sharing in small groups, I joined a group. They were having some difficulty being respectful to each other. I spotted some eye rolling and titters of laughter toward one child in particular.
What to do? Although inside, I was angry, I knew that showing that anger wasn't going to help. I've witnessed first hand the ups and downs of negotiating relationships among adolescents this school year. They are trying to figure out where they fit in and how they fit in. I took a deep breath and participated in the conversation like nothing was wrong. I asked questions. I invited the others to ask each other questions and comment on all of the writing, modeling what the conversation should look like and sound like. My goal was to empower each student to feel valuable as a writer.
At the end of sharing, I asked the class as a whole who had been nervous about sharing their writing. I was taken aback when most hands went up. I had assumed that because we were in March and had been working together all year, that we had that trust issue down.
As I reflect, though, I realize that we always need to come back to nurturing those relationships. Those first moans and groans that I heard from a few students were most likely signs of nervousness in sharing their writing. The eye rolls and laughter that I observed in the small group was probably the same thing. I imagine that by making themselves appear superior, these students were protecting themselves from being made fun of by the others. It's easy to forget the vulnerability that is required in putting your work out there.
And so, we go back to building stronger relationships. We go back to building trust with each other. We have open, honest conversations and we (including me) allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We don't throw our hands in the air and give up.
I hope that my students will look back on their fifth grade year and remember these very important lessons we've taught them. If nothing else, I hope that they'll remember that each and every person has value and deserves to be respected. If we can treat each other with kindness we'll earn others' trust and feel safe to let our guards down and trust in others.