Monday, November 11, 2013

Thinning the Walls of Our Hearts

It is almost inconceivable when I think about the uniqueness of my school. Our story, our growth, our mission, every person involved in growing our kids. Every aspect of Patterson Park Public Charter School is deeply rooted in what is best for our students and the community we serve. At the foundation of this is the belief in educating the whole child. The heart and soul of what we do surrounds a mission that strives to reach the emotional, academic, physical, and creative needs of our children. I cannot imagine working towards a greater mission for my students.

Last week I traveled to Philadelphia with our 8th graders. The expectation is that our grade-level teams plan at least one thematically-connected field each quarter for our students. Needless to say, we take field trips pretty seriously around PPPCS. So, we packed the kids up onto the bus at 6am and headed across state lines. 

It felt good, traveling with my students and being out of the building. Field trips are always fun, but something about this trip felt different. This particular trip involved a much smaller group of students, just half of the 8th grade class, which equalled about 24 kids. It was also a trip that correlated with social studies content, as we were walking in the footsteps of our Founding Fathers that day. Thematically, the trip addressed our first quarter theme of "Breaking Traditions," but I was a little out of my elements. I felt excited to learn right along with my students. 

What I learned during this trip was not just content, it was experiential and it was powerful.

As we smoothly road along to Philly, we threw a movie and the kids immediately settled in. Some watching the screens, some listening to music, others quietly having discussions with friends. The bus was almost silent. Anyone that has ever been on a bus with twenty-four 8th graders can attest to the strangeness of the situation I am describing. It was calm, peaceful, and we road in ease.

At we moved out of Maryland, the sun began to rise. Crossing a large bridge, the sunrise beamed into the bus. I quickly grabbed my phone to snap a picture of the beautiful scene. As I turned to share my love for this sight with the kids, I saw something striking- we were all doing the same thing. The kids had grabbed their phones and were taking pictures of the scene in front of them. I felt so connected my students sharing this moment and reaction to beauty. 

As we made our way through Philly, we had so much to do and see. It was an action packed day. Our social studies teacher was thoughtful and strategic in his planning for us. We viewed the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Constitution Hall, the Benjamin Franklin Museum, in addition to some guided tours. We got to explore our country's powerful and foundational history, that which our freedom's rest upon. It was a great day of learning.

In reflecting upon this trip, though, it felt deeper than all those things mentioned above. It felt stronger and more meaningful. For me, I was a learner among learner on this trip. I smiles, laughed, and complained right along with the kids. At one point during the trip, we sat through a lesson about archaeology. I was very in tune to my students and my own habits throughout the presentation. When the kids were excited and engaged, so was I. When the content was a little too heavy, we felt bored. When a student cracked a joke at something the presenter said, I'm pretty sure I laughed the loudest and was the most disruptive. 

I am just like my students. I learn like them. I am amazed like them. I am bored like them. I am hungry when they get hungry. We laugh at the same things and find beauty in the same places.

When I allow myself to collide with my students, breaking down barriers created by knowing everything and I take an attitude of a learner, I discovered more about myself than I ever expected. When we experience the world together, we experience connections that did not exist before. I was always the trusted adult on that trip, I guided and led the way. Even then, a few key kids were better at directions than me and made sure we really went the right way. 

I came away from this trip with such an immense respect for my students and colleagues. We engaged in an experience that allowed me to trust and embrace others' strengths, see so much beauty, and learn more about myself and others.

How are we allowing ourselves and our students to learn about the world around us? What experiences are we giving our students, and are we fully engaging in them ourselves? What are our students teaching us? What can we learn from them? Are we leaving our own isolated world of the classroom often enough to be stunned by the beauty that surrounds us? What are we learning to learn?

Moving forward, I will remember that the experience is more important than the answers. The feelings are more important than the content. Our actions together lead to greater understanding, trust, and connections based upon our individual needs and strength. I will strive to thin the walls of not only my classroom, but my heart. When my heart is open is when the real learning happens. Let's open our hearts together and discover a deeper truth about ourselves and our world.

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