Friday, 29 May 2015

Bandaid Solution? Worked For Me!

One of my young people has been struggling at school lately. Not with the academic content so much as the 'other stuff'.  We've seen a constant stream of low level back chat, a never ending commentary on everyone's actions and a fairly persistent resistance to participation. Over the last couple of days we've had several chats about what I can/need to do to help and the consistent answer has been along the lines of:
"You don't want to help me! Whenever I ask for help you don't give me the help I want. You only ever help other people. You aren't helpful."
 Wow. Ever been punched in the guts?  That's pretty much how I've been feeling.  I love this kid, in spite of their accompanying challenges. In fact it's possibly because of the their accompanying challenges that they have such a soft spot in my heart.  These words stopped me in my tracks. After much soul-searching and reflection I realised that perhaps the individual relationships I have with my students is part of the problem.  Or rather, not the relationships themselves, but the fact that my relationship with each child is so different and results in highly individualised treatment which isn't necessarily understood by everyone else in the class.

I had to do something and quickly.

I called everyone together in a circle and we had a brief discussion about the different relationships we all have with each other. Aside from a few small pockets of resistance to this idea, nearly everyone was accepting of this concept. I asked everyone to imagine that they'd injured themselves somehow.  They shared their injury with the class while I dug around in the cupboard (making a big show of not listening). Each student was handed a bandaid (sticking plaster?) and asked to apply it to the back of their left hand to help fix their imaginary injury.

"But my injury is on my rib! How will this help?"
"And mine is a smashed leg! This won't do anything!"
"That's the point guys. If she gives us all the same treatment none of us get what we need."
Indeed. The class went on to articulate that because I didn't know what kind of help or where they needed help I wasn't actually able to help them AND that treating them all the same wasn't remotely helpful.  The connection to each of them having different learning needs was seamless, and from there the individualised relationships were not a particularly big leap.

Shortly after, my troubled student sidled up to me and whispered:
"I think I know why I've been acting so silly in class, calling out and all that. Can I talk to you about it after school?"
You betcha!  The outcome: some general stress about stuff going on at home and a desire to feel 'equal'.  I queried this word.
"Equal is the wrong word. I want to be important, but you said we're all important so I have to trust you that I am. I guess I need to remember that if you treat me different to someone else it's 'cos I am."
Yes it is. Yes. It. Is. If that wasn't the best way to end the week, we went on to talk about the idea that sometimes the help that we want isn't the help we need AND that I've worked really hard to be in a position to  know what and how to offer the needed help so trusting me is a good thing. Holy moly.

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 1 Know students and how they learn
Standard 4 Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments

Monday, 25 May 2015

Food Revolution Day 2015

Recently my class was privileged to celebrate Jamie Oliver's 2015 Food Revolution Day at Jamie's local Ministry of Food Pop Up centre.  In case you've never heard of Food Revolution Day you can hear all about it from the man himself:

Our school was offered the sponsored opportunity of sending one class to the centre to be involved and I JUMPED on it.  Aside from being a bit of a Jamie tragic myself, I relished the opportunity to expose my students to a range of foods that they may not ordinarily see/taste in their everyday lives. The date for 2015 Food Revolution happened to fall on the Friday of NAPLAN week which was rather fortuitous! (The prospect of the excursion certainly helped keep morale up on the testing days.) An excursion that involves food and is free? Can you ask for a better way to end NAPLAN week?

You can also imagine how popular this excursion was with the parents: LOTS of parent helper volunteers! (Massive thank you to the parent who stepped in at the last minute when sickness put the kibosh on earlier plans.) The other advantage was that the PopUp is a large fishbowl so many parents, aunts, cousins and grandparents were able to come and watch the fun on the day.

Our local Pop Up centre is only a few kilometres (4.7 to be exact) up the road from school so after much uming and ahing and a lengthy risk assessment with school leadership I decided we would walk. (This also kept the excursion as being free, thereby ensuring the highest level of participation possible.) Predicting how unpopular this choice would be I planned a Maths Trail for our walk there so that we could take our time. Stay tuned for a future post about that.   In the meantime let me leave you with these words: "this was awesome, why can't maths always be this fun?"

Our session at the Pop Up centre was planned meticulously by the Ministry of Food team.  We arrived to find the fresh food and kitchen tools all set up and ready to go.  

Doesn't this look amazing?
Our trainers welcomed us warmly and helped everyone to understand the importance of hygiene in any food preparation.  Everyone jumped into an official Jamie Oliver apron (just a little idol worship from a few students) and we got stuck into our cooking experience.  The trainers guided the VRPs through a video of Jamie cooking a Squash It Sandwich (you can check out the recipe here). You should have seen the kiddos go - what child wouldn't be hooked by smashing their lunch with a rolling pin? 

The sandwiches were filled with a wide range of fruit, veggies, herbs, seeds, legumes and cottage cheese.  They smelled amazing!  The interesting part for me was watching my students' faces as they tried the sandwiches. There was a full range from delight to distaste, with more positive than not. Many of my students were a little puzzled by the lack of meat which lead to some fascinating discussions about the absolute need (or otherwise) for it in our diet. Several students were surprised that they enjoyed cottage cheese. Almost everyone liked the humous.  Even allowing for the children who weren't in love with the overall taste, the reception was favourable.

Food Revolution Day received a LOT of media coverage globally.  Of the three sessions that our local Pop Up ran on the day, ours was chosen by local media to be the focus. We were filmed by a couple of news programmes and had scores of still photos taken for print/digital media.  I was incredibly impressed by the poise of my students as they were filmed and, in some cases, interviewed.    The still photo shoot was great fun for all, especially the two focus children.    You can see the photojournalist setting up his focus children in this screen shot from Jamie's Ministry of Food Australia's Facebook page. 

I think the look on their faces says it all!
So what did we learn from this experience? Quite a lot actually. Not just the obvious message about healthy eating but how we all deal with the unknown. We've been working hard at developing growth mindsets of late, so this was a great test of that. One particular young man told me that he didn't believe that he could live up to our school values and agreements while we were out of the school for the day. I told him that *I* believed he could, then asked him to trust me to have enough belief for the both of us. He did trust me, and he learnt that he could do it.  (Pretty proud moment for both of us!) Another student was a bit concerned about his ability to walk that far, but gave it a go and did it easily. Still another was worried that the maths would be too hard for him. He engaged with every single maths idea, and was the voice of my earlier quote. Everyone learnt something.

If you ever get the chance to take your class to a Ministry of Food centre: DO IT! It's a brilliant experience.

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 1 Know students and how they learn
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning
Standard 4 Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments